A Pastor Must be a Leader, Not a Coward

lionRead the rest of the series.

Paul tells Timothy something very important, and it’s so obvious and so clear that we sometimes take it for granted – a pastor must be a leader, not a coward. In 2 Timothy 1:1-7, Paul reminds Timothy to “rekindle” the pastoral gifts he had, which God had given him through the Holy Spirit. In other words, don’t be depressed. Don’t despair. Don’t give up your fight for the Gospel. Don’t give in to laziness. Let your love of Christ and His Gospel burst into “flames” of enthusiasm, and serve the Lord with passion!

Why was this reminder even necessary? Why did Paul tell this to Timothy? Because it’s natural for a guy to become timid, to slink back, to tuck his head into his shell like a timid little turtle, to start treading lightly as the storm clouds of persecution began to crash out against Christians in the Roman Empire. Remember the apostles immediately after Jesus’ execution!

But, the point here is that God didn’t give Timothy (or any Christian) a spirit of timidity, of cowardice, of fearful fright. Instead, he gave him power. The power of the Spirit, to aid us when we’re afraid. The power of direct access to the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord, the captain of our salvation who blazed that trail for us, right through the compartments of tabernacle, past that torn and obsolete curtain, right to the very throne of grace.

God gave Timothy love. This means love for one another, love for the Gospel, love for the Father, love for His eternal Son Jesus Christ, and love for the Spirit who gives us spiritual life and draws us to salvation.

He also gave us discipline or self-control. The self-control to do what’s right, no matter what pressures are brought to bear by the Accuser. The discipline to lead a congregation to follow and worship the Lord in spirit and truth, no matter what the culture says.

Paul continues …

Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Tim 1:6-7)

Let me be as plain as vanilla ice cream right now, and tell you straight-out:

  • A Pastor can’t be a coward!
  • A Pastor can’t be timid!
  • A Pastor can’t be afraid to stand for the truth!
  • A Pastor can’t be afraid of people, including Christians!

This is what Paul told Timothy. These are critical times for Christians, and we need leaders in our churches who:

  • care about the Gospel,
  • and have the spirit of power,
  • and have a love for God
  • and the discipline to be fearless, persuasive, winsome and passionate ambassadors for the Good News of Jesus Christ

You can’t do that if you’re terrified about what people think about you or the Gospel. If you love God, you’ll want to defend Him and proclaim Him to the world. Make no mistake, organizations across this entire land (secular and Christian) are filled with so-called leaders who are cowards. You’ve worked for some in the past. You may even work for some right now. You know what I’m talking about. Christians can be very skilled at spiritualizing incompetence, because we want to be loving and kind.

  • A man might not be able to teach his way out of a wet paper bag,
  • might not know Augustine from Anselm,
  • might have a spine as stiff as a soggy spaghetti noodle,
  • but if he’s a nice guy who loves the Lord, some congregations are willing to make him their Pastor

Don’t do it – a Pastor can’t be a coward, not with the pressures and challenges he faces every day. He must be a leader. That’s exactly what Paul turns to next:

Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me (2 Tim 1:8-12)

Folks, a Pastor can’t be a wilting flower of a guy. He must be mentally tough. He needs to be willing to never be ashamed of the Gospel, and its implications for every single facet of your life.

The Christian life is a worldview, an inter-related network of beliefs and convictions that combine together to inform how we view this world – the Christian faith is a picture and story that interprets reality; that explains “the way things are:”[1]

  1. Creation: how did we get here?
  2. Fall: why are things the way they are? Why do bad things happen?
  3. Redemption: how can this be fixed? How can things be set right?
  4. Restoration: will things ever be fixed?

Every worldview, every religion (yes, atheism and scientific naturalism is a religion; I’m also tempted to believe politics are a religion for some people, too! 😊) has a set of beliefs that seek to explain these four, most basic concepts and, together, they form the skeleton you use to interpret and understand the world around you.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ answers each of these four “big questions” in a way no others can (because it’s the only truth😊), and this message has implications that should echo and reverberate throughout every nook, cranny, corner and closet of your life. If your local church doesn’t have a leader who is willing to understand that, and can’t lead your congregation individually and corporately to impact your community, friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and enemies with this picture of reality (the only true picture of reality), then he’s not fit to be a leader of a Christian church.

The Pastor must be a leader – his job is too important.

I preached two sermons on these and eight other “marks of a good pastor.” The notes are here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), and the audio is below:

Audio – Part 1

Audio – Part 2 

Notes

[1] These days, there are plenty of books which discuss the idea of a Christian worldview. One of the most helpful, I believe, is Gregory Koukl’s book The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How it Ends, and Everything Important that Happens in Between (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017). His book is really a description of the Christian “story” for seekers; that is, unbelievers who are interested in finding out what Christianity is about. It’s a wonderful book to give to someone who fits this description.

My description of the Christian worldview as a “picture” or “story of reality,” along with the four “big questions,” are taken from his book. Again, I’ve heard and read this all before, but Koukl did a masterful job of distilling these concepts here.

Book Review – The Glorious Cause

middlekauffRobert Middlekauff’s tome, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763 – 1789is a worthy overview of the Revolutionary-War era. It picks up in the heady days immediately after the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War), when a cash-strapped Britain decided it needed some additional revenue to pay off debt accumulated during the late war. It ends with the Constitutional Convention, in 1787, and the ratification of the new Constitution shortly afterwards.

This book is part of the esteemed Oxford History of the United States series, and it lives up to its billing. Each volume is written by a distinguished, responsible historian at the height of his powers. Middlekauff takes the reader into the halls of Parliament and into the homes of colonists in New England, the middle colonies, and the South.

  • The political context is very well framed, and any American who still thinks of the Revolutionary War in cartoonish shades of black and white will be set right, if he reads this book. I appreciate the pains Middlekauff took to frame the political and cultural context on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the best part of the book.
  • The military aspect is rushed, but adequate. The reader won’t get any meaningful, comprehensive sense of how the war went. Middlekauff discussed Lexington and Concord, vaulted to Boston, skimmed the disastrous retreat from Long Island, across to New Jersey and thence to the fateful night in Trenton in perhaps 15 pages. From there, we get a smattering of discussion about the war in the South, and a lively (but brief) discussion of the siege at Yorktown. Anybody looking for a comprehensive overview of the military aspect of the Revolution will be disappointed. But, remember, this is a survey work. However, Middlekauff does offer some insightful analysis of the logistical problems (on both sides), and a lengthy discussion on “why they fought.”
  • The time-period leading up to the Constitutional Convention is merely sketched, and the reader finds himself in Philadelphia without quite realizing how he got there! Middlekauff’s discussion about how the Constitution was drafted, and the accompanying arguments and controversies, is very well done, and I appreciated it.

Overall, in about 690 pages of text, Middlekauff managed to take us from the French and Indian War to the Constitutional Convention – and he managed to be substantive, deep, insightful and engaging. That’s not an easy thing to do! I appreciated the book, and liked it a lot. This is the best one-volume survey of the era I’ve read. I doubt I’ll find anything to top it.

More reading

I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the Revolutionary War-era. I’m not a professional historian, but I believe I’m more well-read than most on this topic. Here are few good books on various aspects of the Revolutionary War-era to supplement Middlekauff’s work:

A Pastor Needs to be Competent, Not Brilliant

performanceEvery Pastor grows depressed when he reads books about “how to be a better Pastor.” I believe that, if you took five popular “how to be a Pastor” books by conservative authors, and compiled a list of everything these books said, you’d be one depressed guy. Of course, not all of these lists are credible.

For example, one well-known Christian leader posted, just today, that one “warning sign” of a bad pastor is that has a “poor social media witness.” No, I’m not joking. Somehow, I must have missed that requirement in the Bible. Yes, now that I think on it … I’m almost certain the Apostle Paul mentioned a weekly quota for FaceBook, Twitter and Instgram posts.

Competence, not brilliance

But, that madness aside, these lists can be depressing. No doubt about it. But, I want to offer a small ray of sunshine. When it comes to pastoral requirements, I don’t believe God requires a guy to be perfect at everything. He asks for competence, not brilliance; along with a willingness to get better and learn over time.

Let me use a sports analogy. In baseball, the “ideal” athlete is known as a “five-tool player.” This means a guy who can (1) hit for power, (2) hit for a good average, (3) has good base-running skills and speed, (4) can throw, and (5) can field. Most guys aren’t “five-tool players.” Most baseball players can do one or more of these things very well, and are competent at the rest. A superstar is generally someone who can do all five (e.g. Ken Griffey, Jr.).

Some Pastors are “five-tool” guys. They can do everything very, very well. Most guys can’t do that. And, I don’t think God asks for brilliance. But, I think He does expect competence.

Unfortunately, many congregations don’t even ask for that much. Christians are generally very, very good at spiritualizing incompetence, because we want to be “loving” and “nice.” A man might not be able to teach his way out of a wet paper bag, might not know Augustine from Anselm, might have a spine as stiff as a soggy spaghetti noodle, but if he’s a nice guy who loves the Lord, some congregations are willing to make him their Pastor. That is a terrible mistake.

The list …

I believe the Bible teaches a Pastor must meet certain qualifications. I also believe that God gives every believer certain talents, gifts and abilities, and molds and shapes all His children into the people He wants them to be. We can look at the Bible to find these Pastoral qualifications. Most Christians instinctively turn to 1 Timothy 3, or Titus 1, to find these. But, those largely moral requirements. What about performance requirements? What about the skill sets, the competences that allow a Pastor to actually do his job?

I think the book of 2 Timothy has something for us, on that score. At my church, as we prepare the congregation to consider a new Pastoral candidate, I’m walking through 2 Timothy 1-2 and picking out some “marks of a good Pastor.” Here is the list I’m working from:

  1. He must be a leader, not a coward
  2. He must be committed to the Bible
  3. He must be educated, competent and capable – so he can guard the faith
  4. He must train new leaders
  5. He must be totally committed to the Gospel ministry
  6. He must not preach a cheap Gospel, and encourage self-examination
  7. He must be theologically balanced and mature
  8. He must be spiritually and emotionally mature
  9. He must be able to teach

I could have found more, but this is enough. Remember, God asks for competence, not brilliance. We can’t all be superstars. But, we can all be competent. If a guy can’t meet these core competencies, then he isn’t qualified to lead a congregation.

End of story.

In the rest of this series, I’ll briefly elaborate on each of these “marks of a good Pastor.”

Marks of a Good Pastor (Part 1)

marksWhat should a congregation look for when considering a Pastor? What are the requirements? What are the marks of a good and faithful Pastor?

Nice hair? A hip personality? Someone who’s “cool” and “relevant?” A guy who’s 50, but dresses like a confused teenager? Someone who ditches a pulpit for a bistro table, and looks like he’s wearing his wife’s jeans? The truth is much more serious than that.

Many Christians instinctively turn to 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 to answer this question. That’s nice, but I’m not gonna go there. Instead, I’m going to work my way through 2 Timothy 1-2, and look for some answers. Here’s what I have so far:

  1. A Pastor must to be a leader, not a coward
  2. A Pastor must be committed to the Bible
  3. A Pastor must be educated, capable and competent

The sermon notes are here, and the sermon audio is below. There’ll be more in next week’s sermon …

Bringing Sanity to a Mad Kerfuffle

packerEvery Christian agrees that, when an unbeliever hears the Gospel, and repents and believes the Good News and becomes a Christian, God gets the glory. Salvation is from Him. All praise goes to Him. Got it.

Yet, Christians have argued about the mechanics of how salvation works for a very long time. I like to explain it like this – imagine you’re attending a play in a theater …

Out on stage, in front of the curtain, everybody sees what’s going on. This is salvation viewed from the outside. An unbeliever hears the Gospel, repents and believes, and becomes a Christian. God gets the glory. But, backstage behind the curtain, all sorts of things are happening to produce the scene out front. Props are brought in and moved out. Costumes are changed. Backdrops are arranged. Backdrops are moved. And so it goes. Christians disagree about what’s going on behind the scenes, in the heart and mind of an unbeliever, to produce repentance and faith.

Generally, people tend towards either:

  1. A more “God alone” understanding of what happens behind the curtain, or
  2. A more cooperative scheme, where man and Yahweh work together, in some form or fashion, to produce salvation

There are great, wide, terrible and heretical ditches on both sides of this divide, to be sure. These are complicated waters, and unwary Christians can read a whole lot of irresponsible garbage by folks on both sides of this unending theological war. Few of the folks you’ll read on the internet know what they’re talking about. Even some who do know write very irresponsibly, at times.

This is why it warms my heart to see a responsible theologian bring some balance to this difficult topic. How can a Christian reconcile God’s obvious control and sovereignty over everything in creation, and man’s clear responsibility to repent and believe the Gospel? Well, I have a book you might like to consider …

Way back when, in a galaxy far, far away, a theologian named J.I. Packer wrote a little book entitled Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Here’s how he introduced this topic …[1]

There is a long-standing controversy in the Church as to whether God is really Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not. What has been said shows us how we should regard this controversy. The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it.

What causes this odd state of affairs? The root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church – the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic.

People see that the Bible teaches man’s responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over these actions. They are not content to let the two truths live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures, but jump to the conclusion that, in order to uphold the biblical truth of human responsibility, they are bound to reject the equally biblical and equally true doctrine of divine sovereignty, and to explain away the great number of texts that teach it.

The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it. Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute. The irony of the situation, however, is that when we ask how the two sides pray, it becomes apparent that those who profess to deny God’s sovereignty really believe in it just as strongly as those who affirm it.

How, then, do you pray? Do you ask God for your daily bread? Do you thank for your conversion? Do you pray for the conversion of others? If the answer is “no,” I can only say that I do not think you are yet born again. But if the answer is “yes” – well, that proves that, whatever side you may have taken on this question in the past, in your heart you believe in the sovereignty of God no less firmly than anyone else. On our feet we may have arguments about it, but on our knees we are all agreed.

I think Packer does an excellent job presenting this issue from a pastoral perspective. He sounds like a nice grandfather, discussing theology over hot chocolate on a cold winter’s morning …

If this is a topic that interests you, consider picking up a copy of this little book. It’s about 120 pages. You can do it!

Notes

[1] J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1961), 16-17.

A Word About Bible Translation Philosophies

montoyaIf you’re a Christian who has paid attention, you’ve probably heard strong opinions from Pastors or other Christians about various English Bible translations. Maybe you’ve heard the NIV is a “liberal translation,” because it’s “gender-neutral.” Perhaps you’ve heard the NLT is a paraphrase. And so it goes.

There’s nothing wrong with the major English Bible translations. I don’t care which one you read and use; KJV, ASV, RSV, NIV, NRSV, NEB, REB, NASB, MEV, LEB NET, Phillips. Take your pick. In the end, most disagreements come down to what you believe about (1) translation philosophy and (2) which printed, Greek New Testament text is the best. I wrote a long article about bible translations a while back to briefly address some of these concerns.

Today, I want to talk about translation philosophy. If you ask an informed Christian, she’ll probably tell you there are two camps:

  1. Formal equivalence, or “word for word” translations. This approach tries, as much as possible, to retain the original word order in Greek and Hebrew.
  2. Dynamic equivalence, or “thought for thought” translations. This philosophy seeks to convey the meaning of the word or phrase, and isn’t as tied to the original word order.

This is all wrong. Wrong. Not right. Wrong.

Most Christians in America aren’t fluent in a second language, and haven’t studied languages. I understand, and I’m not blaming anybody. But, the result is that Christians who say these things are usually repeating what others have told them. They often really don’t know what they’re talking about. This kind of argument works best as an abstraction, as a pie in the sky philosophy. When you put the fancy ideas away, and actually try to translate a Bible passage yourself, life gets tough.

Here’s a simple example …

What does “bless” mean?

The Apostle Peter is wrapping up his discussion of the so-called “household” or “station codes,” and he wrote this to sum up every Christian’s responsibility to live in a holy way in a pagan world (1 Peter 3:8-12). Here’s one excerpt from that section:

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9, RSV).

Tell me, what on earth does “bless” mean, in this context? I want you to explain it to me. I want you to consider the context, consider why the phrase repeats in the same sentence, and tell me what “bless” and “blessing” mean. I’m waiting …

Still waiting.

Well, I’ll go first. Here’s one thing you should always remember:

  • There is no such thing as a “literal meaning.” Literally (heh)! 

Every word and every sentence depends on context for clarity. Words have tons of different meanings, but the context tells you which meaning is right. You already know this, instinctively. You don’t even realize you know it, but you do.

Think about the word “tons” (which I conveniently put in bold so you’d see it). What is the “literal meaning” of that word? You don’t know, do you? You’re thinking on it now, and you’re realizing it all depends on how the word is used, aren’t you? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says:

  • The word could refer to a metric unit of weight, or
  • It could mean a large quantity of something, or
  • Various quantities of storage capacity for maritime shipping

So, there is no literal meaning for a word or phrase – context is everything. Now, when you look at a dictionary, you get what linguistic nerds call a gloss. This is a generic definition that covers a lot of ground, but doesn’t even begin to explain the word well. For example, you could say the gloss for the word ball is “a rounded mass or shape.” But, that really doesn’t tell you much. There are tons of ways (see what I just did!?) to use the word ball in the English language.

  • “George and I went to the ball last night! He looked so handsome in his tuxedo!”
  • “We left the kids at home last night, and went out on a date. We had a ball!”
  • “Hey, Jeff, wanna play some ball with the guys this Saturday?”
  • “For the last time, Sherri – you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball! What’s wrong with you, lately?”

When you come to the Greek participle εὐλογοῦντες, the normal gloss means bless. Yay. How wonderful. What on earth does this mean? Well, when you consider how the word is used in the New Testament and contemporary Greek writing, you have two basic options:

  1. It can mean something like “be kind.”
  2. It could also mean “to invoke God’s blessing upon.”

Which one is it, here? Because Peter goes on to say Christians were called to inherit blessing (i.e. “divine favor”) from God, it makes sense to understand the participle to have the same sense, here.[1] That is, it seems Peter is using the term “bless” in the same way both time he uses it, in 1 Peter 3:9.

Once again, here is Peter’s argument – consider which usage best fits the context:

Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary ——–, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a ——–.

Is Peter telling them to be nice to hostile unbelievers? Or, is he telling them to invoke God’s favor upon these hostile outsiders? Christians have been called to do this, whatever it is. As a result of God’s calling, Christians will obtain … whatever this is. It seems obvious the second option is the one we want; to invoke God’s divine favor.

But, how should we translate it? Should we render it as bless? 

The rendering “bless” is standard Biblish in our Christian vocabulary. It’s meaningless. You’re used to seeing it, because it’s comforting and familiar. But, does the word bless here actually communicate anything at all? What does it mean?

We’ve just found out that, in this context, it means a Christian shouldn’t return insult for insult, or evil for evil. Instead, the Christian should ask for God’s favor on the offender. So, perhaps we should just translate it that way! This is what my translation looks like:

You must not make it a habit to repay evil for evil, or insult for insult. But, instead, you must always repay by asking for God’s favor on the person, because you were called to all this, [and] as a result you’ll obtain God’s favor!

We shouldn’t be captive to glosses that don’t explain what the word actually means. Deliberate ambiguity isn’t a virtue when the context is rather straightforward.

Some critics would say my translation philosophy here is dynamic equivalency. I reply – I love you, but you really don’t know what you’re talking about.[2] A dynamic equivalency translation would actually go one step further, and ask the question, “what does it mean to ask for God’s favor on the person?” The answer, I believe, is to pray for the person’s salvation. So, a true dynamic equivalent translation would render this something like, “you must always repay the person by praying for his salvation …” So, there.

In this context, the participle εὐλογοῦντες means “to invoke God’s blessing upon” someone. This isn’t a tenuous interpretation; it’s pretty straightforward and I can make a very, very good case for it. Shouldn’t a translation seek to bring this across?

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Bill Mounce, the author of the most popular first-year Koine Greek textbook in America. He wrote this in a short article, entitled “The Myth of Literal Translation:”

May I encourage you not to be deceived by this idea of choosing an English Bible so that you can see the underlying Greek structure. You will be led astray on every verse. If you want to get that close to the Greek, I know of a couple Greek textbooks that will help you get there (grin). If not, then understand that all translations have to smooth out the Greek to make it understandable English, and read it with that in mind.

Keepin’ it real

I could say a whole lot more, nuance my position a bit, and offer up all the appropriate caveats about translation philosophy.  But, I won’t bother here. I’ve said enough to make my point, and any theologians reading this already know what those caveats are anyway.

Let’s recap:

  1. Don’t take a simplistic stance on a Bible translation philosophy – it’s complicated.
  2. Most Pastors or leaders you listen to either never learned Greek, or have allowed themselves to forget most of it. Even if they use it, many of them don’t do much beyond word studies. It’s very rare to have a Pastor who actually does translation himself, and can interact with exegetical commentaries and argue syntax in  meaningful fashion. So, the chances are the person who’s giving you information about bible translation philosophies is well-meaning, but really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
  3. There is no such thing as a “literal meaning” of a word. I mean that literally. Get it?
  4. A bible translation shouldn’t be afraid to ignore a gloss and render the clear meaning of a word or phase, if the context is clear and straightforward.

So, don’t be afraid of the NLT. Don’t be afraid of the NIV. Don’t be afraid of the KJV or the RSV. They’re good translations.

Notes

[1] Actually, there is real disagreement about how to translate the last bit of 1 Peter 3:9, but I won’t bother to go into that here!

[2] Any interested Christian should read Leland Ryken’s book, Understanding English Bible Translations – An Essentially Literal Approach. With some caveats, I appreciate his approach to the issue and agree with his “essentially literal” philosophy.

The People of the God of Abraham

jerusalem2At a time when the daily news trumpets the latest political scandal, our Facebook walls vomit forth more madness, our Twitter feeds grow ever darker, and the comment boxes on our favored websites grow more vile by the moment, a Christian ought to pause to consider the end-game. Christ will return, and there will be true peace on earth for all those with whom He’s favored. Then, on that day, there will be no more “fake news,” no more victimized gymnasts, no more predatory medical doctors – no more sin at all.

Christ declared to the Apostle John, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5). This passage of Scripture (Psalm 47) gives us a brief glimpse of what this day of rejoicing will look like.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy (Psalm 47:1)

This is clearly a psalm celebrating a momentous event. All the people are commanded to clap, and shout to God with riotous joy. Is the psalmist referring to the Israelites in the congregation, or to “all peoples” who belong to Yahweh, including Gentiles? This is interesting, but we’ll have to wait for more context before making a decision. For now, just consider – why should the people shout for joy, and clap with such glee?

For the LORD, the Most High, is terrible
a great king over all the earth (Psalm 47:2)

It’s a celebration about who Yahweh is. He’s the Most High, He’s terrible (i.e. “fearful,” [NEB]; “to be feared” [NASB]; “awesome” [NLT; LEB]; “awe-inspiring” [NET]. He’s a great king over all the earth!

Yahweh is the King now, even as He allows Satan to be the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2). You can’t read the story of Job, for example, without seeing God in complete control over His creation (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). Satan operates only because God permits it. This means people who reject Yahweh and His promise of salvation through the coming Messiah are criminals in God’s universe. He’s already the King; He just hasn’t come back quite yet.

Some readers might quibble, and suppose this psalm is only describing some future event. Perhaps so, but this psalm was sung by faithful Israelites as they worshipped. It had meaning then, too. Yahweh was their king then and, in this New Covenant era, He’s our king, also. It’s a present reality, with a still future fulfillment.

He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves (Psalm 47:3-4)

The congregation praises Yahweh for what He’s done. Through His blessing, this small nation “dispossess[ed] nations greater and mightier than yourselves,” (Deut 9:1). This only happened because He chose the Israelites from among the pagans, made them His own, and blessed them abundantly. It was a corporate election to salvation and service, and it was all of grace (Deut 7:7-8; 9:4-5). This is why they clap and shout with such joy in their hearts and souls. God is good, and He’s full of mercy, grace, love and kindness.

God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm (Psalm 47:5-7)

Again, God is the king of all the earth. It’s a present reality that all people are commanded to acknowledge and respect. They do this by confessing their sins, believing in Yahweh’s promise of a future Deliverer, Messiah and Savior, and then proving their love by following His law in sincerity and truth. God’s people will love Him, and want to praise Him for who He is, and what He’s done. This kind of universal joy and praise to Yahweh will only come when all creation bows in submission to Him. As another psalmist wrote, “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!” (Ps 110:2).

The scene here almost reads like a coronation, as if the King has just assumed His throne, been crowned as “Lord of Lords,” and is accepting the rapturous praise of His servants. The psalmist is viewing the event as if it’s just happened, and he’s recording it all in his trusty notebook. This song may have been sung at coronations for Israelite kings at some point, or it could be purely prophetic – the Israelite people looking forward to that glorious day when Messiah would come and assume David’s throne. Some people assume the Old Covenant saints were largely ignorant about the details of the Messianic prophesies. Perhaps they were, but David certainly wasn’t (compare Ps 16:8-11; Acts 2:25; 13:32-36).

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne (Psalm 47:8)

Yahweh will reign on earth one day. The Book of Revelation tells us this will be an entirely new earth, situated in an entirely new creation. And, in a new holy city, Yahweh will sit on His throne with His eternal Son, and they’ll reign together over the nations (Rev 21:22-27).

The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted (Psalm 47:9)

What a wonderful picture! This is so different from the Jewish attitude in Jesus’ day; an attitude which was racist, prejudiced, and characterized by a sneering nationalism borne out of centuries of the most rabid and insatiable persecution. God told the Israelites they would “be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex 19:6). Their task was to represent Yahweh to the pagan world around them, loving Him with everything they had (cf. Deut 6:4-5), as they modeled His kingdom by living according to His laws. They came closest during Solomon’s reign (1 Kgs 10), but even that wasn’t very close at all

The exile changed everything, and the Israelites gradually began to emphasize orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy; right behavior over against right belief. This subtle shift had enormous implications, which compounded themselves as the years went by. The Book of 1 Maccabees, for example, speaks of “the Gentiles” over and over again (e.g. 3:25-26; 3:52; 3:58-60, etc.). It doesn’t matter who Judas and Jonathan’s enemies were, they were always “the Gentiles.” The Maccabees weren’t concerned with a “circumcision of the heart” at all. Theirs was a religion of law, of right behavior, of cultic ritual. There is no mention of devotional piety; only external conformity. Judas sallied forth and “hunted and tracked down the lawless” (3:6), and “destroyed the godless” (3:8). He forcibly circumcised young Israelite boys (2:46), and “thus they saved the law from the Gentiles and their kings …” (2:48). On his deathbed, Judas’ father Matthias exhorted his sons to “draw your courage and strength from the law, for by it you will win great victory,” (2:64).

By Jesus’ day, He encountered an externalism that boasted an elaborate, blasphemous theology of ritual defilement from contact with Gentiles. It was this perversion that prompted His condemnation of their ceremonial washing rituals (Mk 7:1-13); “you leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men!” (Mk 7:8). Peter had enormous trouble getting rid of this baggage (Acts 10:34-48; Gal 2:11-13). The Jerusalem church likewise struggled mightily with the very idea that Gentiles could be joint-heirs of living grace. They criticized Peter (Acts 11:1-2), were wary of the Antioch congregation’s Hellenistic makeup (Acts 11:22-23), and had repeated issues with some of their own members advocating a perverted, works-righteousness salvation (Acts 15:1-2). Even the Apostle James treaded lightly around these men (Acts 21:17-26).

And yet … this psalm knows nothing of this prejudicial attitude. Instead, the author catapults over this madness and lands squarely in the New Jerusalem. The princes of the people (i.e. the Gentiles) have gathered together as (some translations render this “with”) the people of the God of Abraham. The Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Israelites. This is the glorious future for all who believe. The Gentiles and the Israelites will serve Yahweh together, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. There, in the true celestial city on a new and perfect earth, all God’s people from every nation will come to the tree of life to eat freely. After all, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations,” (Rev 22:2).

Yahweh is the King of all who believe. This psalm paints a glorious future. The King will reign. The people, Jew and Gentile alike, will clap, shout and “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Pet 1:8). Oh, the half has never yet been told!