Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 10, 2005
Expressing Worship: Voice, Hands & Feet
This morning is the 10th sermon in our series on worship. From the beginning I have tried to stress that true worship must be done according to what God wants. Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4 that God is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. Anything less than that is ignorant worship at best and may well be false worship. The tragedy is that too often our selfishness and pride results in us worshiping God according to our own designs instead of what He wants and we fool ourselves into thinking we are very spiritual in the process. As we have seen in our past studies, God is very serious about those who worship Him and the way in which they do it. Through the prophet Isaiah, God rebuked the nation of Judah for their sacrifices which He rejected because their hearts were far away from Him. When King David tried to have the Ark of God moved to Jerusalem, God struck Uzzah dead for his irreverence in moving the Ark improperly. It is God’s patience and longsuffering that has kept Him from striking many more down through the years and in the present for their irreverence and failure to worship God according to His directions.
This morning we come to several aspects of worship that I will state from the beginning make me somewhat uncomfortable because they are outside the conservative religious traditions in which I grew up. However, traditions may or may not match what the Lord asks of us. Our quest in worshiping the Lord God must always be to discover His will and follow it even it that is not in keeping with the traditions in which we grew up. Therefore it is helpful to at times to study the practices of those in other traditions to see if there is a Biblical practice that has been neglected in your own.
It is with that in mind I listened to the tapes and examined the notes for long series on worship taught by Jack Hayford of Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif. It is a church I am familiar with since I went to High School with his son, and it is a church that is noted for their worship. It is always encouraging to hear someone else preach the same things you preach, and for the most part that was true as I listened to the tapes. There were a few things in which I found the Biblical foundations for some of their practices weak and therefore uncompelling, but there we are also a few that were clearly backed up by Scripture and therefore compelling as proper worship of God. Again I must stress that those who want to truly worship God are on a quest to do it God’s way even if it is new to them or strange from their own perspective.
The fundamental church movement, of which we are a part, has been very successful in preserving and proclaiming the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith. We have maintained such beliefs as the Scriptures as the Word of God; the humanity and deity of Jesus; His virgin birth, sinless life and substitutionary atonement, Jesus death, burial, resurrection, ascension and promise of return. We continue to believe and teach salvation from sin by God’s grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the priesthood of the believer, the promises of an eternal heaven for believers and an eternal hell for unbelievers. All these things are good and positive. However, a weakness that developed in the fundamental church has been the tendency to define themselves more by what they are not than what they are. Our question should always be “what does the Bible say about it?” Once that question is answered what other groups believe and do should really be of minor concern.
This morning we are going to take a look at what the Bible says about the use of our voice, hands and feet in the worship of our God. How does God want us to physically respond to Him? Before we get to that though, I want to first make a brief comment about private vs. congregational worship and the importance of a worship leader.
One of the things I appreciated about Hayford’s series on worship was the distinction between public worship and private worship. When you gather with other people there must be a consideration for them which results in you restricting your freedoms as you seek to look out for their interests above your own (Phil. 2:1-4). In addition, God is not a God of confusion and so wants everything to be done properly and in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 14 esp. vs. 33 & 40). This also results in restrictions in corporate worship that do not exist in personal worship. This also means that the worship leader needs to direct the congregation in their response of worship, and the congregation needs to follow the directions of the worship leader instead of doing whatever they feel like doing at the moment.
How does God want us to use our voice in worshiping Him? I am not referring here to using our voices to sing and proclaim His glory, for I already talked about that in previous weeks. We are to sing to the Lord (many Psalms), shout joyfully (Psalm 66:1 etc) and even make a “loud noise” (Psalm 98:4 KJV). My specific question this morning is what vocal response should we have to the ministry of others? What should we say when God has touched our hearts through someone else or we agree with what they have said?
Having grown up in a Southern Baptist Church in the 1960’s, I was used to hearing shouts of “amen” after a song or when the preacher made a good point. Later on I was in a church that was more Presbyterian in style in which the congregation remained silent during the service except for singing. On some missions trips I have been around people that will shout “Hallelujah,” “Praise the Lord,” or “Glory to God.” What does God desire?
The word “Amen” means the same in Hebrew and Greek. When used at the beginning of a sentence it means “verily, or truly.” When used at the end of a sentence it means “so be it” and expresses agreement and commitment to what had been said. It is a common Biblical word being used 22 times in the Old Testament and 103 times in the New Testament. Seven of its occurrences in the Old Testament are in Deuteronomy 27 where the people publically pronounced their agreement with the warnings of the curses God would bring upon them if they disobeyed the Lord. It was used a response of agreement of praise to the Lord in 1 Chronicles 16:36 as well as in Nehemiah 8:6; Psalm 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; and 106:48 in which the people are instructed to say, “Amen. Praise the Lord!”
In the New Testament Amen is used most often in the sense of “verily” or “truly” to introduce a true statement (76 times in the Gospels), but it is also used numerous times as an expression of agreement and praise for a statement made. For example, in Romans 1:25 Paul refers to God as “the Creator, Who is blessed forever” and immediately adds Amen. He does the same thing in 1 Timothy 1:17 saying,“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, [be] honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Similar uses of Amen occur in Romans 9:5; 11:36; 16:27; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil 4:20; 1 Tim. 6:16; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11; 2 Pet. 3:18; Jude 25; Rev. 1:6. Amen is also used in the sense “so let it be” when a desire, prayer or a future hope is stated such as in Romans 15:33 in which Paul expresses his prayer “Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Amen is also used in this sense in Gal. 6:18; 1 Thess. 3:13; Rev. 1:7; 2:20.
Of more interest to us this morning is its usage in Corinthians, which reveals its usage in worship services, and in Revelation, which reveals its usage in Heaven. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is correcting their usage of the gift of tongues by stressing the need for interpretation and showing the superiority of prophecy. Starting in verse 13 Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is [the outcome] then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also; I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also. Otherwise if you bless in the spirit [only,] how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying.
What I want to stress from this passage this morning is that there was an expectation that the congregation would respond to the prayers of others with an “Amen.” Paul is simply saying that if others do not know what you are talking about, they are shut out from being able to join in agreement with you by responding properly. It is proper for us to respond corporately with the “Amen.”
In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul is discussing the truthfulness and faithfulness of his declaration of the gospel to them. In verse 20 he says, “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” They would pronounce an Amen at the declaration of the truth of God and this was done to the glory of God. The book of Revelation gives us examples of this in action. In Revelation 5 we find John still talking about the scene in Heaven and the glory and worship given to the Lamb who was worthy to open the seals. The chapter concludes in verse 14 stating, “And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.” The Amens were given in response to great truths spoken about the Lamb.
In Revelation 7 we find that a multitude in heaven from every nation and tribe standing before the throne and before the Lamb crying out “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (vs. 9,10), and the response of the angels, the four living creatures and the 24 elders was to fall on their faces before God saying in verse 12, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen” So again we find the Amen given in corporate worship of God at the declaration of truth about God. In Revelation 19 we find another scene in Heaven in which a great multitude is proclaiming the righteous actions of God in judging those who are rebellion against Him in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. Here again we find the response of the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures is to fall down before God and proclaim, “Amen. Hallelujah!” (vs. 4).
The Biblical evidence is that it is appropriate and right to proclaim the Amen in public worship as a response to declarations of truth about God and His actions as well as agreement with the prayers, petitions and thanksgivings given to God. It is not a matter of your culture or traditions. It is simply the pattern set for us in the Scriptures and what occurs in heaven in the worship of our God. Other words are also used as responses of worship.
As we have just seen in Revelation 19, the word “Hallelujah” is also used as a vocal response of worship (vs. 1,3,4 & 6). “Hallelujah,” like “Amen,” is another Hebrew word that is transliterated into other languages and so it means the same in Hebrew, Greek and English which is “Praise Yahweh.” It is usually translated as “Praise the Lord” since the Jews would not pronounce out loud the covenant name of God, Yahweh, and instead would say, “Adoni,” meaning “Lord.” It is used 31 times in the Psalms alone. It is most often used as either an introduction in calling people to praise the Lord through the Psalm (Psalm 106, 111, 112, 113, 117, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149,150) or as a conclusion to the Psalm in calling for people to respond with praise to the Lord (Psalm 104, 105, 106, 113, 115, 116, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150).
When we remember that the Psalms were part of congregational worship whether sung by the Levites or by the whole assembly, we must conclude that it is still a proper part of worship in our own time. Whether you say “halleljuah,” “allelujah” (which is the same word incorrectly transliterated without “h”), or “Praise the Lord,” it is a fitting way to begin or conclude praise and worship of our God or to declare it in response to truth about God and His actions. Any other derivations of this such as “Praise God,” “Glory to God,” etc., would also be good. Again, we find it is not a matter of your culture or traditions. It is simply the pattern set for us in the Scriptures and what occurs in heaven in the worship of our God.
Since you now know that it is Biblically proper to verbally respond in these manners during congregational worship, perhaps you will feel a little more freedom to do so, though are some cautions. First, I give you fair warning that verbal responses to the preaching may encourage the preacher to keep preaching. Second, and more seriously, verbal response needs to be appropriate to what is being said, sung or done. It is not to be done just so other people know you are here. It should be simply said, not shouted. Third, it is to be related to something true about God, therefore, we must be careful about using these terms to just vocalize our agreement or enjoyment. These are not proper responses to political, social or personal statements or actions.
I also do want to mention again as I did when we were examining music in worship that saying “Amen,” “Hallelujah,” “Praise the Lord,” etc. is the proper response to what occurs here on the platform in ministry whether that be music, preaching, drama, etc. There is a place for clapping hands, but all glory belongs to God, and applause places some of that glory on people instead. Please always remember that none of those who do something here on the platform are seeking to entertain you in any way. Our desire is to exalt our God and encourage you to do the same.
With that in mind, what is the proper use of our hands in worship of our God? The most obvious use is in serving God, but we will deal with that in a few weeks. What about clapping and lifting them up?
The first thing to note about clapping hands is that such action is not always positive. There are several words used to describe clapping in the Old Testament. There is not a reference to clapping in the New Testament. From the negative side there is saphaq which means to clap, smite or strike. It occurs in Job 27:23; 34:37 and Lamentations 2:15 as an action of mockery or derision. Macha’ means to “strike” or “clap.” It is used metaphorically of the noise made by rivers (Ps. 98:8) and trees (Isa. 55:12) in joy before the Lord. It is also used in Ezekiel 25 of the nation of Ammon’s response toward the bad things that happened to Israel. God declared he would judge them because of that. Taqa means to “thrust, blow, or clap.” When used of clapping it is in the sense of joy. In Nahum 3:19 it is joy over the destruction of Nineveh. In Psalm 47:1 it is used more in the sense of the subject we are dealing with this morning in the use of our hands in the worship of God. “(For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.) O Clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy. 2 For the Lord Most High is to be feared, A great King over all the earth.” The rest of the Psalm goes on to praise God for subduing His enemies and His reign over the nations. Hayford makes the quite reasonable conclusion that clapping is included as one of the practices involved in making a “joyful noise” to the Lord which would certainly include clapping with the music.
Though our tendency is to think of clapping hands as the applause of approval because of its usage in our society, the Biblical usage is much more of an expression of joy. Think of young children who clap their hands or jump up and down because they are happy or perhaps a sports minded adult whose team just won the championship. There are appropriate times for clapping, however, our society tends to over use applause to the point where it loses a lot of its meaning because it is no longer special, and that practice easily spills over into the church. Any clapping done in joy for what God has done should maintain the element that it is a special response and not common place. That is another reason to not use applause in the church in response to music or other performances. It is also interesting to note from Psalm 47 that all the people were directed to clap instead of it being a spontaneous response. Perhaps it is best to let the worship leader direct when clapping should be included along with our verbal praise.
What about lifting our hands? This is a subject that no doubt makes some of us uncomfortable, but again we must seek to understand what God says instead either simply following cultural or traditional practices or seeking to avoid identification of groups that you disagree with that have this practice. We find several different uses or meanings to lifting up hands to the Lord.
The first usage is found in Genesis 14:22 when Abraham speaks to the king of Sodom about having “lifted up his hands to the Lord God” in the sense that he swore before God. The action of lifting up the hand or hands in taking an oath is used throughout the Old Testament and is translated as “swore,” or “sworn” in the NASB. In Neh. 8:6 this is done while also saying, “Amen, Amen!” as declaration of commitment. God metaphorically uses the phrase for Himself in Deut.32:40 in speaking of His oath to the nation of Israel. You can think of this usage as being the same or similar to raising your hand and taking an oath of office or in court. The Angel in Revelation 10:5,6 did this as did the Angel in Daniel 12.
Another reason hands were lifted up was in petition to God. It was a physical act that accompanied prayer. We find this usage in Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to Thee for help, When I lift up my hands toward Thy holy sanctuary.” It is used the same way in Lamentations 2:19, “Arise, cry aloud in the night At the beginning of the night watches; Pour out your heart like water Before the presence of the Lord; Lift up your hands to Him For the life of your little ones Who are faint because of hunger At the head of every street.” This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 2:8 saying, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” Paul then goes on to talk about praying for people. While our practice of prayer tends to be closing our eyes and bowing our heads, a common practice then was lifting your hands and looking up. This is still an proper practice for prayer.
In conjunction with prayer, hands were also lifted to bestow blessings. In Luke 24:50 Jesus leads His disciples “out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” In Psalm 63:4 we find the statement, “So I will bless Thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Thy name.” A similar statement is made in Psalm 134. It is still a proper practice to lift hands as a blessing.
Lifting hands was also done to show agreement and allegiance. This may be its usage in Psalm 119:48 “And I shall lift up my hands to Thy commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Thy statutes.”
A final reason for lifting hands is in the worship of God as a sacrifice. David expressed it this way in Psalm 141:1,2, “O Lord, I call upon Thee; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to Thee! May my prayer be counted as incense before Thee; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.” David was not able to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice, so he petitioned the Lord to accept the lifting up of his hands as a substitute. Here, this is done in conjunction with prayer. A similar thought may have been in mind in Lamentations 3:41 as Jeremiah surveyed the ruins of Jerusalem and the Temple. He still desired to lift up his heart and hands toward the God of heaven.
We must conclude that the lifting of hands for these various reasons is Biblical, but we must also caution that the practice is to be done with these reasons in mind, for the purpose will dictate the practice. In petitioning God or seeking to worship Him the hands are held with palms and eyes up much as a child does in reaching up to a parent with expectation. In swearing allegiance or acknowledging agreement the hand or hands are upright and palm facing out much as when swearing an oath. In bestowing a blessing the arm is outward with palm down symbolizing a covering or shelter for the one being blessed. There are erroneous ideas out there including the raised hands being some sort of antenna to receive God’s power. There is also the mimicking of what occurs in secular concerts in which people lift their hands to the singers and sway back and forth to the rhythm of the music. That would not be in keeping with Biblical purposes nor the practices that would rise out of them.
Let me add one other caution to the practice. This goes back to what I said in the beginning about not being selfish in worship. Be courteous of those around you. Keep in mind that if you lift your hands high, you may be blocking the person behind you from being able to see the words on the screen. You may need to either keep your hands lower, or come early so you can sit in the back where you will not block the view of others. At the same time, those of you who might be bothered by having your view blocked need to sit up front.
The final form of expressing worship I want to talk about this morning is the use of our feet. Again, using your feet to go serve the Lord is the best worship you can do with them, particularly if it is in proclaiming the gospel (Rom. 10:15). However, my particular interest in talking about feet this morning is in their use in dance.
What does the Bible say about dancing as part of the worship of God? First, it must be recognized that dancing is a proper act of worship. Psalm 149:3,4 specifically states, “Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre. 4 For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation.” Psalm 150:4 adds “Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe.” The question is what kind of dancing fulfills the instruction of these Psalms?
I hope we all recognize that there are many forms of dance that could not be used in the worship of God. Examples include the dancing of false worship around the golden calf in Exodus 32; the dancing of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 30 which was accompanied by drinking in celebration of the spoils they had taken from David; and the dancing of Herodias’ daughter which was to please Herod and his dinner guests (Mark 6:22). Dancing in false worship, in celebration of evil deeds or dance that hedonistic would all be excluded. We can add to this any dance that is immodest or sensuous since those would be reflective of the flesh and not the spirit (Gal. 5:19-24). That is the major problem for those that advocate the use of modern dance as part of worship. As a whole, they seem more influenced by Broadway than by a holy God. Praise the Lord for the exceptions.
Godly dancing is in contrast to worldly dancing. Dance that would be part of worship arises out of joy. I am sure most of us have seen little children start dancing when they are very happy. Psalm 30:11 expresses this joy saying of God, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.” That joy may be over God Himself or something that He has done. In Exodus 15 Miriam led all the women with timbrels and dancing after God had destroyed the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. We find the women of Israel doing the same thing when Saul or David returned from battle victorious (1 Samuel 18). David danced before the Lord as the Ark of God was being returned to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:14). Dancing will be part of Israel’s response of joy when it is restored in the Millennial kingdom (Jer. 31:13).
The Scriptures make it clear that dancing is a legitimate expression of worship, but as already pointed out, that does not mean every kind of dance is acceptable to God. In addition, there is also a timing factor. As Eccl. 3:4 states, there is a time to mourn, and there is a time to dance. There is a propriety in time and place that must be considered. I should also point out that most of the dancing mentioned in Scripture is group dancing which is usually men with men and women with women as part of a celebration. If you have ever been to or seen the cultural dancing of middle Eastern groups at their weddings you will know what I am talking about. They are joyous celebrations without any impropriety.
There has been a movement in some churches in which people in the congregation dance as they desire to praise music during the worship service. That is not in keeping with what the Scriptures present as praising the Lord with dancing. It is only another example of both the selfishness of people striving to worship the way they desire instead of according to God’s directions and of worshiping individually within a congregation instead of corporately.
We are to express worship of God with all that we are and all that we have. Included is the use of our voice in proclaiming Hallelujah, Praise the Lord and pronouncing the Amen. Hands are used appropriately to make a joyful noise to the Lord and are lifted up to Him in prayer, affirmation, commitment, blessing and sacrifice. Feet move with joy in celebrating God and what He has done. We are to worship the Lord both corporately and personally. In a few weeks we will conclude this series by looking at how to make the worship of God part of your daily life.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) List how many times references are made to “voice,” “hands” or “feet.” Talk with your parents about how you can express worship to God.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How does God respond to those that try to worship Him in some way other than in spirit and in truth? What must control us in our efforts to worship God? Why? What distinctions are there between public and private worship? What must be considered in corporate worship? What does “Amen” mean? How is it used in the Old Testament? New Testament? How and when should it be used in a worship service? What does “Hallelujah” mean? How was it used in the Old Testament? New Testament? How and when should it be used in a worship service? What different ways is clapping used in the Bible? When could it be used in a worship service? Why is applause generally not appropriate in a worship service? What are the different uses / meanings of lifting hands in the Bible? How and when should hands be lifted in a worship service? What considerations should be made? Discuss what the Bible says about dancing. How and when should dancing be included in a worship service. What cautions should be taken to keep inappropriate dance out?
Sermon Notes – 7/10/05 a.m.
Expressing Worship: Voice, Hands & Feet : Selected Scriptures
Considering Others (Phil. 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 14 esp. vs. 33 & 40)
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