by Dr. Creig Marlowe
I have at times heard people resist or reject the Christian Gospel on the basis that they cannot take such a narcissistic God seriously. This comes from the emphasis among believers and in the Bible on God’s requirement for constant worship and praise. The complaint is that the God of the Bible comes across as needing repeated confirmation of his greatness. This wears thin on some ears. In thinking about this I used to feel stumped, because admittedly the Scripture does spend a lot of time on God’s and the authors’ (especially of the Psalms) demands for praise or recognition of God’s qualities, almost ad nauseum, at least to some people. But the question is, why this emphasis? Is it about God’s selfish and neurotic need for praise or something else. If the former, I agree with the critics. But there is a much more meaningful, rational and positive reason for this repetitive stream, especially in the Old Testament. If God would come to his defense, I think He would proclaim “It’s not about Me, it’s about you!”
I say this because of the nature of praise. We miss that praise is supposed to be about witness or testimony. The modern church has moved away from how in the early church there was not a focus on a sermon, but on worship or praise, meaning multiple witnesses to how God has acted in people’s lives. This is why Paul mentioned,
What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts. One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach, still another a revelation from God. One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community. (The Voice; 1 Cor 14:26).
There may have been abuses he was trying to correct, but we still see that the practice was to allow a number of worshipers to minister to the congregation through their spiritual gifts by speaking about God’s revelation to them, which helped edify the worshipers present. This has roots in the Old Testament. In the psalms we often observe the psalmist vowing to God that when he is rescued from his predicament (i.e. after his prayer is answered and he is “saved”–often from death), he will compose a song or poem of praise and go before the people in the sanctuary or temple precincts and report to them regarding God’s goodness and greatness. Often in translations we see “I will give thanks”; but the word we translate “thanks” is a word about praise. In a number of places this word is a poetic parallel (used as a synonym) for the more common word for “praise.” So its more precise sense is to show gratitude through testimony or witness. The ultimate value of doing this is not that God gets “strokes” and wallows in His glory, but that the audience is encouraged and edified. OT worship like the NT churches allowed for this ministry to take place. For those who are wondering, Paul’s command to Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2) had nothing to do with sermons based on biblical texts. First, preaching then had only to do with evangelism. After Acts, preaching (except for witness outside the churches or just sharing some positive reports) is never mentioned in the NT (since the concern is with teaching and training believers). Second, “the word” has to mean the good news of the Gospel, since there was no Bible as we know it today known as “the Word [of God].” The “Word” for them was Jesus (John 1). The point of all this is that praise is not about stroking God’s ego, but is supposed to be about encouraging and empowering believers. God has no self-esteem problem. Praise properly viewed in the Bible is not about God it’s about us! It’s about you! Our worship services must include testimony and witness and messages from the written Word about the living Word that not only exalt God, but by rehearsing how God has helped others increases our faith in Him.
Creig Marlowe, PhD, is a faculty member at Evangelische Theologische Faculteit in Leuven.