Well, there’s one thing very evident about that video: we are all getting old. It’s about the close-ups. Whose idea was that? You know, the whole, basically, evangelical church is being handed over to junior high people, isn’t it – I mean, musically young people – and here we are with this geriatric music department. It’s astonishing to think about it.
I mean, going way back you saw one picture that had Mary Jane Duncan in it, and she started as church pianist here, and I think probably, maybe 53 years later the Lord took her to heaven. But she played the piano for us over half a century. Clayton’s been here 40. Steve, at the organ, 30 – 42. Steve came before you did – 42 years. And Mark Rice, 35 years. And Sharon, 40 years. It’s an astonishing thing the Lord has done to keep us all together. The good news is, we’ve all been together; the bad news is, we’re all going at the same time. But we’ve got Bill. How wonderful is that?
It’s a privilege obviously, personally to have known and loved Clayton. I first met him in Eugene, Oregon when he came from Detroit to be Minister of Music at my dad’s church, First Baptist Church of Eugene. We knew from the very beginning that he was remarkable, that he was unusual. Actually, his national music profile began about at the age of 15, I think, and he began to play piano on network television for Percy Crawford’s evangelistic ministry out of New York, and they had a national program on one of the networks that was broadcast across the country, and gospel preaching. And as a 15-year-old, he was playing piano, and then it was organ. And the Lord brought him from Detroit here, and we’re so grateful for all of that. There’s going to be more about that tonight. We’ll have a little interview and I’ll try to explain why he always has to drive a red sports car; that might be of curiosity to some of you.
But there are no words to express the gratitude of my heart that the Lord has given us and given to me such a partner in ministry, because I’m such a strong believer that the music must be consistent with the preaching. And if the preaching is going to be deep and clear and God-honoring and Christ-exalting and elevated in its doctrinal clarity, the music needs to carry that same commitment; and certainly, ours has here for all these many years. And again, this is not a retirement for Clayton. We’re going to have him around going forward, and we’re grateful for all the years the Lord gives him to us.
Thinking about music, because that’s kind of on our minds today, just a few thoughts from the Word of God. We have been saved for the ultimate goal of worship. That is our ultimate goal. We enjoy while we’re here on earth other divine purposes, namely, to proclaim the gospel to an unbelieving world, preach the gospel to every creature, fulfill the Great Commission. But once that is finished and this human history is wrapped up at the return of Jesus Christ, and after His kingdom when the new heavens and the new earth are created and all the saints and angels are gathered into eternal glory, we will there in eternal glory basically fulfill the purpose of our redemption, and that will be to worship the Lord.
Every glimpse of heaven you have in the Scripture, when you see the throne of God, gathered around that throne, whether it’s angels or angels and saints collectively, they’re always doing the same thing. Whether you see them in the fifth chapter of Revelation or the fourteenth chapter of Revelation or the fifteenth chapter of Revelation, whenever you get a glimpse of heaven it’s always filled with praise. All the creatures who are there, whether they’re angelic creatures or the redeemed saints, the church triumphant, are all engaged in the same great, glorious, transcendent purpose, and that is praise and worship to the triune God. We will spend forever doing that. Whatever the highest moment of your worship experience might be, when your soul has sung at its highest and best, when your heart has literally exploded with gratitude and joy to the Lord, multiply that by infinity and you’ll have the sense of what worship in heaven will be like for you. It will be the most exhilarating, fulfilling, satisfying, joyful moment that never ends, as you will forever praise your Lord.
This is why we have been saved. In John 4, Jesus says, “The Father seeks true worshipers to worship Him in spirit and in truth.” We are, by definition, those true worshipers, and we worship in spirit – that is, with our whole being and our emotion – but we also worship in truth. We worship, offering God praise from the heart with all of our human powers, and even our glorified human powers, but always in consistency with truth. First Peter 2 says we are, in fact, a holy priesthood, offering up to God spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ.
When you think of yourself as a believer, think of yourself as a worshiper of God, as a part of a holy priesthood; and our responsibility it to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God. And the writer of Hebrews says those sacrifices are praise. The sacrifice of praise from our lips is the high point of our spiritual sacrifice. Philippians 3, Paul says, “We worship God in the Spirit and glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.” Again, we are worshipers of God, we are worshipers of Christ; this is who we are.
I want to draw you to a text to begin this morning, Romans chapter 12, a very familiar verse. You will, perhaps, know it by memory, Romans 12:1. After the glorious benediction in chapter 11, which is a paean of praise to God, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” This is a call to praise. This is consistent with why we have been redeemed. This is our priority.
And so, “Therefore” – in chapter 12, verse 1 – “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Because of the mercies of God that have been bestowed upon you, you are to express your worship by giving your whole self as a living, holy sacrifice, acceptable to God. Again, that is your reasonable act of worship. Your spiritual service of worship is to give yourself to God fully and holy, as a priest offering up sacrifices to God through Christ.
What were the mercies of God? He says the motive for this, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” What do you mean by that? Well, all that God has given us He has given us by mercy. We deserve none of His good gifts, so they are all, by definition, among His mercies. But if you were to read the opening eleven chapters of the book of Romans, you would know that the mercies of God are the following. These are the things God has given us that we do not deserve, could not earn: love, grace, peace, the Holy Spirit, saving faith, hope, comfort, power, patience, kindness, righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, security, joy, freedom, sonship, union with Christ, resurrection, eternal life, and everlasting glory.
Those are the mercies of God that Paul delineates in the eleven chapters that come before chapter 12. And in reviewing that, Paul says based upon this magnanimous, astonishing generosity by which God has given you, as an undeserving sinner, all these mercies, what should be your response? Your response is a spiritual service of worship; and that worship is offering first your whole self as a living and holy sacrifice. It’s reminiscent of Psalm 116:12 where the psalmist asks the worshiper’s question, and here is that question: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?”
How do I respond to the greatness of God’s mercy to me? The worshiper’s ultimate question to his own soul: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” The answer: You render to Him your spiritual worship. And what is that? It is to give your whole self as an offering of praise. You do that as an individual believer. That’s how we live our lives, daily offering ourselves to God like a spiritual sacrifice. Paul borrows sacrificial language and says, “I die daily.” It’s as if he crawls up on the altar for a self-sacrifice every single day as he offers himself to the One who has poured out such everlasting mercy on him. That’s individual.
Collectively, when we come together, we add to that personal sacrifice a corporate sacrifice of praise, a corporate offering of praise. And the writer of Hebrews speaks to this in the tenth chapter of Hebrews. This is a familiar portion of Scripture. Just starting in verse 22 of Hebrews 10, “Let us draw near” – it’s plural, “let us.” Now he’s talking to a congregation. “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” That’s borrowing an Old Testament idea that you ascend the holy hill as a worshiper with cleans hands a pure heart. You come to the Lord as a congregation, having purged your own heart and your own hands.
Then in verse 23, “Let us” – together – “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” We come to the Lord, cleansed heart, cleansed hands. We come with a confession that our hope is in the Lord and in Him alone, and that we believe He is faithful to His promise. And then when we come together – I love this – verse 24, “We consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” How do we do that? Verse 25 says, “By encouraging one another.” How do we do that? How do we come together to stimulate one another to love and good deeds and encourage one another? Because that is exactly what we are told to do.
The answer comes in a couple of familiar verses. Colossians 3. Listen to verse 16: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you.” Okay, you start with taking in the word. You can’t really worship the Lord if you don’t know Him. The more you know of the word, the more you know Him, because the word of God is the revelation of God. So as the word of Christ richly resides within you, it provides all wisdom.
As a result of that, immediately Paul writes, “teaching and admonishing one another.” Well, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Hebrews 10 says we’re to stimulate one another to love and good works. How do we do that? We do that by teaching and admonishing. How do we do that? “With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it that way, but congregational singing is simply all of us stimulating one another to love and good works. It is collectively all of us coming together to teach and admonish each other in psalm and hymns and spiritual songs. That’s the power of music in worship.
Ephesians chapter 5 – we’ll see in a moment – says simply the same thing. It says be filled with the Spirit; and as a result, you will speak to yourselves in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord. Being filled with the Spirit is the same as having the word dwell in you richly. You’re dominated by the truth of the word of God; and the Spirit of God, of course, takes the word of God and fills your life with His presence and power.
But why music? Why does music play such a big role in our worship? Because essentially it’s the only thing we do together that collectively makes sense. We don’t all pray individual prayers out loud; that kind of a cacophony wouldn’t help anybody. We don’t all meditate out loud. You may be thinking about the Lord, you may be meditating on truth. You keep that into your own heart, you don’t mumble so the people around you could hear that. Our meditations are in the heart – the meditations of our heart, as the Old Testament calls them – because for all of us to meditate out loud would be chaos. There’s only one thing that we can do out loud to stimulate one another to love and good works, and that’s to sing, because we’re all singing the same song, and most of us are singing the same tune – with some exceptions.
Music has found a priority place in worship because it is the only thing we all do together to stimulate each other. We all sing, we all lift our voices, we all speak to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, and make melody in our hearts to the Lord. And if this is to be worship that honors God, then the words we sing must contain the truth, because we are to worship in truth. So we must be singing sound, accurate, biblical revelation. And if it is to honor God, even the melodies of our hearts have to be those kinds of melodies that suit lofty expressions of divine truth. The words carry the truth, the melodies carry our emotions as we contemplate that truth.
To express our worship by this means requires the highest and the best of all musical quality. Music, if it’s going to carry divine truth on its wings, should be beautiful, should be excellent. It should be skillfully played. It should be the very noblest of all possible expressions of music. You can’t offer God-exalting, Christ-honoring praise, pouring out divine truth consistent with the glories of doctrine in a cheap or superficial tune. It deserves the best. If our knowledge of the Lord in His glory is rich and full, lofty and awe-inspiring, so should our music be.
And the music offered to God is a spiritual sacrifice of praise needs to avoid the world. It needs to reflect heaven. That means it demonstrates beauty, order, majesty, quality; that it has a design that shows some of the order of God’s nature, but some of the rich complexity of beauty. It should be intelligent systematics, sequential, poetic, harmonic, rhythmic.
Salvation demands the most beautiful music. We have for 40 years been able to experience that because of what the Lord has done for us through Clayton Erb. His music has undergirded the preaching of this pulpit for four decades, and it has brought consistency to our worship in truth and in spirit.
There are some popular misconceptions about the role music plays; maybe I can just comment on those. Music, let’s just say, is not worship. Some would make us think that worship and music are synonymous. Music is not worship, it is a means to express worship. Worship is praising God for His character and His works and His promises and His faithfulness. That’s worship. From the heart, worship is the heart glorifying and honoring God, music is just a vehicle. And as I said, it’s one of many vehicles personally; but collectively, it is the dominant way in which we express that corporate praise.
Another misconception is that music somehow induces worship. Music can induce all kinds of feelings, but music doesn’t induce worship. The heart worships, the mind worships based on what you know to be true by the revelation of God and His word and your own experience of His work in your life. Music does not create worship. Truth and love and adoration from the heart create worship.
Another misconception is somehow that music sets some kind of mood for worship by its certain style. We’re not trying to take music and create a mood. There’s no such thing as a mood for worship, because you can only worship as far as your heart will allow you and your mind will allow you, because of your understanding of truth and devotion to it.
Again, music is not mood music for us, it is a vehicle to capture our thoughts and our convictions and our beliefs and things that are true about God, and lift them beyond ourselves. We get to borrow lyrics. We don’t borrow praise, but we borrow lyrics. We get to sing beautiful melodies and hear beautiful melodies. We don’t borrow adoration, but we get to borrow a tune to express that adoration.
And one final thing: music is designed in the church for one purpose, and that is to glorify God. It is not designed by any means to make visiting nonbelievers think they’re at a rock concert. It’s not designed for them. People say, “Well, if we don’t change our music, unbelievers will be bored.” Well, of course, it’s not for them. This is for us intermediately to be able to express glory to God; that’s what a worship service is.
A worship service isn’t some kind of emotionally induced experience that is equal for believers and nonbelievers. That’s not worship. Worship is when believers, because of what’s in their heart in the knowledge of the truth, are given an opportunity to express that in beautiful tunes and beautiful lyrics collectively; and all of it is offered to God. All of it is offered to God. If I don’t get anything across other than that, that would be sufficient for you to understand why we sing and why we play music.
Just listen to some familiar words that I will quote for you from the Psalms. There are many more, but here’s a selection. Psalm 33:1, “Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy. For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.” Your singing, you’re praising the Lord. Your praise is always directed to Him.
In chapter 40 of the Psalms, Psalm 40, a similar beginning: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock making my footsteps firm.” That’s like salvation. “He put a new song in my mouth,” – And what is that new song? – “a song of to our God.” And, yes, “Many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.” It does have an evangelistic impact to see a praising people.
Psalm 96:1 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Psalm 98:1, “O sing to the Lord a new song.” Psalm 147, “It is good to sing praises to our God.” Psalm 149, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Isaiah 42:10, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Throughout the whole of the Psalms the word “new” is used more often with the word “song” than any other substantive. Our music is not like the old songs, it is new, and it is always directed to the Lord.
Second Chronicles 29. If you will turn to it for a moment, I want to give you this beautiful picture of worship that came when Hezekiah restored the temple worship. He assembled everybody together, they went to the house of the Lord and they made sacrifices; and this was a revival under Hezekiah. And if you come down to verse 25 of 2 Chronicles 29, “He then stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with harps and with lyres,” – another kind of stringed instrument – “according to the command of David and of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the Lord through His prophets.” They’re doing what God had commanded them to do. God had commanded them to worship Him with music. So they followed that commanded.
“The Levites” – verse 26 – “stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets. Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the Lord also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel. While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.
“Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped. Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the Lord with the words of David and Asaph” – who had written many of the Psalms, as you know. “They sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped.” I mean, the picture there is of God-ordained worship. It is designed to sing to the Lord, to sing to the Lord. And yet, in the New Testament it says, “speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody to the Lord.” The intermediate reality of our music is that we are stimulating one another toward love and good works by the recitation of these profound realities concerning our God; and it then rises above us to the ultimate end, which is to glorify God with our worship.
People of God had been given by God a prescription for mainline music in their worship. In the temple, for example, 1 Chronicles 23. There were 38,000 people serving in the temple; 4,000 of them were in the music department, 4,000. Miriam – you remember, back in Exodus 15 – led a women’s chorus. The prophets in 1 Samuel 10 had a men’s chorus, a chorus of prophets with instruments. Congregations sung praise in the Old Testament; and according to 1 Chronicles 13 and 15, they sung loudly as the Lord likes it – loudly.
David made a choir for the tabernacle. Solomon had a temple choir of 4,000 people. Zerubbabel had a temple choir of 200 in the Zerubbabel temple when the main temple had been destroyed and another temple, the second temple, was built. One of the parts of that building was much more modest than the original temple. It was to have a choir and a choir loft.
The revival of the word of God in Nehemiah’s day, when the people came back from captivity, featured antiphonal, loud singing. They had instruments all throughout their worship – stringed instruments, drums, woodwinds, trumpets – and one of the most wonderful things to think about is Ezekiel 40 describes for us a temple that’s going to be built in the future when the Lord comes back and sets up His millennial kingdom on earth. There’s going to be a temple, and in that temple dimensions are given for the choir loft, and it’s large enough to hold 4,000 people.
Now look, how many times do you read in the Psalms, “It is a good thing to sing praise to the Lord”? The Lord wants to hear your song from your heart, collectively with the people of God rising into His presence.
In the New Testament, the Lord and the disciples finished up the Passover meal, and it says after they had sung a hymn they went into the garden. Paul and Silas are found in jail in the book of Acts chapter 16. And what are they doing in their stocks? They’re singing hymns. First Corinthians 14 says, “Sing with your spirit and sing with your mind.” That’s like spirit and truth. And again, when you go to heaven in Revelation 5:14-15, you just hear nothing but songs of praise offered to God. This is our calling.
Now turn to one other passage and I’ll just make a few comments. Ephesians 5, verse 18: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” That’s a strange contrast: “Don’t be drunk, be Spirit-filled.” Why does he make that kind of contrast? Because in ancient religion, drunkenness was a means they believed to communications with the deities. They actually believed that as you became more and more inebriated and more and more out of touch with your normal senses, you were somehow in that state of inebriation being elevated into the divine sphere, and you would commune with the deities. And if you wanted even more profound communion you would go lay with a temple prostitute and you would engage in a sexual orgy to excesses of immorality; and that, too, would enhance your communion with the deities.
As you would obviously know from all of that, they were not righteous deities, they were unrighteous deities because they were all fabrications of hell and fabrications of sinful people. That’s how religion worked in the ancient world. You got drunk and you got involved in immorality, and you could throw in gluttony. They even had in some of their temples places where you could vomit and go back and eat again. It was the rankest of base orgies. And our Lord is saying, “Look, you’re not going to connect with the Lord doing that.”
“You be filled with His Spirit.” Let His Spirit fill your life. You don’t want to be filled with alcohol, you don’t want to be filled with immorality, you don’t want to be led by any of those worldly things; you want to be filled by the Spirit of God, filled by the word of Christ dwelling in you richly. And when the Spirit of God takes over, as the word dominates your heart, verse 19, the result is speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.” What’s going to happen is when you’re Spirit-filled or the word dwells in you richly, your worship is going to rise toward God.
Again, everything, whether you’re talking about the Old Testament or the New Testament, shows us that worship is directed Godward. It’s certainly not ultimately directed to make us happy, although it is pleasing and becoming and joyful; it comes to us and through us to glorify God. What a gift music is. By it, God Himself has ordained that we glorify Him. And in the process of singing music and playing music that glorifies Him, we also stimulate one another to love and good works, so that we actually wind up speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, as well as singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.
It starts in the heart, and then it comes out and it’s ministry to one another. Speaking, laleō, that’s onomatopoetic. The word “to speak” is laleō – la, la, la, la. It actually is translated in some case the chirping of a bird. We make music. The happy heart makes music because that’s where our gratitude, our thankfulness and our joy takes us.
So, we speak, la-la-la, to one another in psalms. Psalms basically means a song played on a stringed instrument. Hymns, humnos, a song of praise, five times used in the Greek Old Testament referring to the songs of salvation. So, we sing psalms, which are hymns of praise to God; we sing hymns, which generally we could say are salvation songs that look at what God has done for us; and the spiritual songs are songs of testimony, like we sung this morning: “It is Well with My Soul.” That’s a spiritual song of testimony. I would assume that you would understand that most people sitting in Christian churches across our country are far away from the richness of what this experience is for us every single Sunday. This is a gift that is really beyond comprehension. God has so graced us.
In reading Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s wonderful look at the Christian life, you will remember that Christian gets into conflict all the time. Every new day brings a new level of conflict, and he enters conflict and he exits it – God giving him a means to do that. And every time he exits some harmful situation, it always says the very same thing. Fifty times in Pilgrim’s Progress it says this: “He went on his way singing. He went on his way singing.”
That’s what Spirit-filled believers do, they sing. They sing in their hearts. And then when they get together, they sing to one another; and collectively as they sing to one another, it rises to God as a sacrifice of praise. And when we all get to heaven, there’ll be no monotones, there’ll be no hymnals because you will have memorized all the hymns that heaven will tolerate. They will be part of your mind, and you will sing forever.
But there’s going to be a special soloist in heaven. There will be a special soloist in heaven, and he’s going to sing a solo; and I would like you to meet him. He’s introduced to us in Zephaniah 3:17. “The Lord your God,” – this is looking at heaven – “the Lord your God is in your midst. The Mighty One will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will greet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing.” Who’s that? God Himself.
In fact, by the way, God is singing even now. God Himself is singing because His heart is full of joy over your salvation. And one day when we all come to heaven and we all join the angelic hosts and the triumphant church, and we’re all singing and singing and singing, for just a moment occasionally, we may stop so the Lord can do another solo and rejoice over us. What grace is that, that we should be in the presence of a God who sings His gratitude for us.
Father, we thank You for Your word, Your truth. Thank You for music. Thank You for the music here, this remarkable church. We thank You that You have given us Clayton and all those who have been part of our music team for so many, many decades. What a gift, incalculable to us and to the world really, as the ministry of music here is extended across the earth. Thank You for enriching our lives with this ability to praise You in the loftiest way, to collectively speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs so as to stimulate one another to love and good works. And not only that, but more importantly than that, collectively to bring into Your presence praise that is fitting for You.
We come together for one reason, even listening to Your word, even hearing the word preached is to inform us, so that we know more clearly the truth, more extensively the truth, more sharply and precisely the truth, to inform our endless worship. Thank You even this morning for giving us this privilege. We trust that what we have offered You by way of songs of praise has been pleasing to You; that’s our prayer. Amen.
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