If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.
When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about the importance of treating each other well, with out prejudice and with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, he added an important truth: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 NIV)
His advice about wrapping our motivations in love is what keeps us from turning his earlier instructions into another to-do list for controlling types. A song from “The Slipper and The Rose” called “Protocoligorically Correct” demonstrates a situation many of us are familiar with, even outside a fairy tale kingdom setting.
“Yes, we must be protocoligorically correct Good form must never suffer from neglect The rules and regulations we respect Must be treated circumspect Else the kingdom will be wrecked We’ve a system to protect Checked and double checked And protocoligorically correct.”
It’s an amusing song even if its satire stings a bit. Many virtues seem, well, virtuous, until we realize that without love they become mere rules and regulations and the means to maintain control. When virtues morph into protocols, the soul of Christian existence is relegated to the back of the broom closet. Sometimes it’s easier to preoccupy ourselves with protecting a system than actually caring for each other and raising each other up. Love is an investment in another person’s well-being and spiritual growth. Love requires sensitivity to the tempering wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and the kind of emotional courage Jesus demonstrated.
Love is not an option for the Christian. It’s not something to be sentimentalized and brought out for special occasions. Love is the identifying feature of the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13: 34, 35
I appreciate the candour expressed in the Psalms of the Sons of Korah. In Psalm 84 they are experiencing the glory of the Lord and the beauty of being in his presence and going from strength to strength. In Psalm 85 they recognize that a distance has crept into their relationship with God. They are again falling back into the old default position of relating to him as an angry God. They cry out for revival, a fanning of embers that seem to be slowly losing their fire.
I’ve been there. Have you? As I’ve been meditating on this Psalm, I believe I am beginning to see a kind of map for renewing the desire to get back to the place of passionate love for the Lover of our souls. It looks like this:
-Worship God by choosing to focus on who he is and remembering what he has done.
-Assess the current state of your relationship and tell him how you feel. Honestly.
-Ask for what you need.
-Listen to his heart and pay attention to his many ways of communicating insight.
-Learn from his advice and seek ways to let it change you.
-Declare the outcome of what he has shown you.
Here it is in Psalm 85:
Worship and Remember
You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger. (verses 1 to 3 NASB)
Assess and tell him how you feel
Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? (verses 4 and 5)
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. (verses 6 and 7)
I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. (verses 8 and 9)
Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. (verses 10 and 11)
The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. (verses 12 and 13)
I wondered what was meant by the psalmists use of the metaphor of righteousness and peace kissing each other. (verse 10) That lead me to do a word study.
The word translated kiss here is nashaq. This kind of kiss means a great deal more than romance or affection. We have difficulty understanding this kind of kiss in that culture. It’s not a western custom. The Bible describes the kiss of restoration of relationship when Esau kissed Jacob. The word nashaq is used for the public mark of authority Pharoah granted Joseph to prepare the land for coming famine (Genesis 41:40). We read it again when Israel gave his final blessing to his sons and grandsons. It is used when Aaron went out to meet his younger brother, Moses, as a sign of recognition of, and submission to, his calling (Exodus 4:27). It is used when describing the prophets who refused to kiss an idol and refused to give Baal any acknowledgment of authority or influence in their lives.
A nashaq kiss can symbolize a fastening to someone. It can indicate a restoration of order in relationships. Sometimes it was symbolic of a formal equipping with authority that could include power or weapons. This authority is publicly conferred upon the person receiving the kiss.
When love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace kiss each other. They form a bond which is mutually empowering. Righteousness that comes from God the Father through Jesus Christ makes peace possible. The peace that Jesus gives is beyond understanding, but it enables righteousness to replace shame and guilt. Both, together, give us a place and a standing in the family of God, not by anything we have accomplished, but by God’s grace.
Faith-fullness (which also comes from God) gives us a means to receive and something to offer back to our heavenly Father. His response, his ‘anah (explained here), to our prayer made in faith that he will hear and answer, is the righteousness of Christ which came down from heaven. When we are born again, it is Christ’s in which we live and move and have our being. It is his righteousness which went before and prepared his steps and now goes before and prepares our steps toward greater intimacy with our Creator.
Because of God’s response to our earnest cries for his unfailing love to revive us again, we can declare with confidence, “The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest!”
I don’t know about you, but I have some talkin’ to do with the Lord. If you want to join me in worshipping, expressing, asking, listening, learning, and declaring restoration and revival for your own heart, for your family, for your household of faith, for your community or city, for your country and for the world, you are welcome.
What a change! From the pit of despair to the height of the grace and glory of God’s presence. Wow.
Do you remember the starting point for the leader of the rebellion in the wilderness, when Korah and his followers blamed Moses for all their problems? Here is some background of the story.
Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: Is it too small an honor for you that the God of Israel has singled you out from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to perform the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? But are you seeking the priesthood as well? Therefore you and your whole group are the ones gathered together against the Lord; but as for Aaron, who is he, that you grumble against him? (Numbers 16:8-11NASB)
Many years later, a remnant group of descendants, who had born the stigma of being from the family that rebelled, found their way home. In his deliberate denial of God’s goodness and lack of trust in his plan to rid them of old mindsets in the process of going to the Promised Land, Korah and his friends and followers demanded power for themselves. After travelling the path of repentance, the path of changing course and returning to God’s ways, the once shamed band of poets and musicians King David assigned to lead worship experienced finding their true home. They wrote in Psalm 84:
How lovely are Your dwelling places, Lord of armies! My soul longed and even yearned for the courtyards of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may put her young: Your altars, Lord of armies, My King and my God. (verses 1-3)
Korah and his friends were jealous of Aaron. They had served the congregation on the threshold of the tabernacle, but they wanted more power.
The Sons of Korah found the God they served on the threshold of the Tabernacle generously poured grace on them, even though they didn’t rise to hold positions of highest honour in men’s eyes. This is where they experienced his glory. God did not withhold any good thing from them as they walked in integrity and simply worshipped. They found joy in service, not in control.
For a day in Your courtyards is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than live in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; He withholds no good thing from those who walk with integrity. Lord of armies, Blessed is the person who trusts in You! (verses 10-12)
As Gayle Erwin wrote, “No one jostles for the position of servant.” It takes a long time for some of us to realize that ambition can drive us seriously off course when the goal is to have control, or to gain a position that demands respect, or accumulate fans, or make money. The road back from rebellion is the road to joy and godly contentment. It’s learning that striving to reach our own definition of the “top” is itself a form of slavery. It’s a change of heart that comes more in line with the truth of the gospel that if Jesus, the Son of God sets you free, you will be truly free. The road back is discovering that God is who he says he is, and he is worthy of our trust.
Can you hear the joy in their voices? Perhaps Psalm 47 was written after a victory, or the recollection of a victory. Since some of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah have been proven to be prophetic, the triumph celebrated may be about a future event. We know that Psalm 45 is about Jesus, the King.
O clap your hands, all you people; Shout to God with the voice of triumph and songs of joy. For the Lord Most High is to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience]; He is a great King over all the earth. He subdues peoples under us And nations under our feet. He chooses our inheritance for us, The glory and excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah. God has ascended amid shouting, 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 in a skillful psalm and with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together as the people of the God of Abraham, For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is highly exalted.
(Psalm 47 Amplified Version)
Can you sense the change in the hearts of these artists who once mourned and walked in discouragement and poverty of spirit as they carried inherited shame?
When God lifts the burden of shame, guilt, rejection, and self-loathing, he replaces it with a better identity. When we see ourselves in our heavenly father’s eyes, the way he created us to be, we also find our purpose.
Worshippers worship. It’s just what they do. Purpose is found in a restored relationship with God. Some people find their purpose when they worship. It fits. It’s what they were created to do, especially when it is expressed creatively. Whether they sing, or dance, or shout, or write, or play instruments, or take photographs, or design houses of worship, or prepare food for the hungry, their hearts are full when focused on God. They sense his pleasure. The connection motivates a desire to give praise with excellence, and more importantly, creates a deeper hunger for deeper understanding.
The Creator wired his beloved in different ways. Korah, as a Levite, was given a position in the place of worship. His desire for control and recognition abused the characteristic that would give his descendants purpose. In this psalm we see purpose restored in the sons once marked by rebellion.
I’m including links to four different expressions of Psalm 47. Some styles of music can be more accessible to us depending on familiarity and custom. All are performed with skill. Like the Sons of Korah, having gained some understanding of the character and nature of God, I long for more.
Who are you? How does God see you? Do you know your purpose in life? What motivates you to keep seeking when pain is all around and nothing seems to make sense?
Ask him. Pour out your heart. There is more for you to discover.
Psalm 45 is called the Wedding Psalm because it describes a bridegroom and a bride. At first it seems like a flattering poem written by someone who is a bit over the top with enthusiasm.
Beautiful! Beautiful! Beyond the sons of men! Elegant grace pours out through every word you speak. (verses 2 and 3)
Then the praise seems to pole vault over esteem for any human I’ve heard of.
Awe-inspiring miracles are accomplished by your power, leaving everyone dazed and astonished! (verse4)
Wait. This is not about King David or King Solomon.
Your glory-kingdom, O God, endures forever,
for you are enthroned to rule with a justice-scepter in your hand!
You are passionate for righteousness, and you hate lawlessness.
This is why God, your God,
crowns you with bliss above your fellow kings.
He has anointed you, more than any other,
with his oil of fervent joy,
the very fragrance of heaven’s gladness. (verses 6&7)
Going back to the introduction, it appears the author/s were not merely exaggerating to gain political points. This was no meeting of a deadline to write something extra nice for a royal wedding. What the son or sons of Korah experienced here was a spiritual experience beyond what most people knew. I’m quoting from The Passion Version because it attempts to include emotional content.
My heart is on fire, boiling over with passion.
Bubbling up within me are these beautiful lyrics
as a lovely poem to be sung for the King.
Like a river bursting its banks, I’m overflowing with words,
spilling out into this sacred story. (verse 1)
I have no trouble imagining someone who limited their concept of God to intellectual debate accosting the singer/songwriters with the question, “Who is this king you are calling God? And where is this in the Torah?”
They might have been especially upset when the song mentioned this God-King marrying a pure and glorified bride.
And standing beside you,
glistening in your pure and golden glory,
is the beautiful bride-to-be!
Now listen, daughter, pay attention, and forget about your past.
Put behind you every attachment to the familiar,
even those who once were close to you!
For your royal Bridegroom is ravished by your beautiful brightness.
Bow in reverence before him, for he is your Lord! (verses 9b -11)
Other prophets wrote about feeling overwhelmed when the Holy Spirit came upon them for a purpose. They called it fire in the bones, or an intense need to be purified, or falling as though dead. Sometimes they needed days to recover. The writer of Hebrews verifies that this psalm is indeed about Jesus, God’s son.
But about his Son, he called him “God,” saying,
“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever
and you will rule your kingdom
with justice and righteousness,
For you have cherished righteousness
and detested lawlessness.
For this reason, God, your God, has anointed you
and poured out the oil of bliss on you
more than on any of your friends.”
This was a glimpse of the future, but by itself the meaning of the psalm remained a mystery for a very long time. The writer of Hebrews explains:
Throughout our history God has spoken to our ancestors by his prophets in many different ways. The revelation he gave them was only a fragment at a time, building one truth upon another. But to us living in these last days, and now speaks to us openly in the language of a Son, the appointed Heir of everything, for through him God created the panorama of all things and all time. (Hebrews 1:1 & 2)
Psalm 45 is a prophetic word picture of an event that wouldn’t be explained until John, who wrote down his vision in the book of Revelation, told us about the great marriage celebration of Jesus and his bride, the purified, sanctified, glorified ones he came to redeem.
For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns!
Let us rejoice and exalt him and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come.
And his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, shining bright and clear,
has been given to her to wear,
and the fine linen represents
the righteous deeds of his holy believers.” (Revelation 19:6b – 8)
The Psalms of the Sons of Korah are probably not in chronological order of the dates they were written. That tends to be a western way of organizing things. It’s hard to tell where this ecstatic bank-bursting overflowing words experience occurred on the road back from shame that began with the rebellion of their ancestor in the desert, but I’m often surprised by God’s timing and who he picks to pass on these fragments that over millennia create a fuller picture of who he is and reveal his plan since the beginning of creation. I think one of the purposes of prophecy is not to give us a program with a list of events in order of appearance. A lot of prophetic words won’t make sense until the time comes to recognize that this thing happening now was foretold. This is that. Through prophecy, God gives his people re-assurance that he knows all about it. He’s been in it all along. He’s not surprised or anxious. He’s got this.
I’m very grateful he leaves clues for us like a trail of mysterious crumbs that urge us to find the one who left them there. Perhaps the Sons of Korah needed to get their eyes off the pain that is so evident in some of their psalms and venture out, taking steps of faith toward him by singing a song that must have made people at the time scratch their heads.
Encounters with God can be scary out-of-the-box events for which we have no grid, but they create a hunger that makes us want more.
Have you ever experienced the cold judgment in this statement? “Oh. You’re one of those.”
The Sons of Korah knew what it was like to be maligned as descendants of a disgraced ancestor.
In Psalm 43, they plead for vindication. They have been falsely accused. They know what it is like to be misunderstood. When others rejected them, particularly people who carried religious authority, they may have felt that God rejected them too. When it happens often enough, the subjects of dismissal may start to question their own perceptions. Sometimes they may doubt their value and place in society. At other times they protest their innocence. It’s confusing. They need clarity on their journey to the place of worship. They write:
Plead for me; clear my name, O God. Prove me innocent before immoral people; Save me from their lies, their unjust thoughts and deeds.
You are the True God—my shelter, my protector, the one whom I lean on. Why have You turned away from me? Rejected me? Why must I go around, overwrought, mourning, suffering under the weight of my enemies?
O my God, shine Your light and truth to help me see clearly, To lead me to Your holy mountain, to Your home.
Psalm43:1-3 The Voice
I wonder if this is why one of the first people to whom Jesus revealed his true identity as Messiah was a shamed, rejected woman from an ethnic group held in contempt by Jews – the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her that soon the place of worship would not be a physical location, but in spirit and in truth. What a difference that encounter made in the way she saw herself! That joyful moment instantly transformed her into a bold missionary. “Come and see!” she urged neighbours back in the town. She was no longer avoiding anyone.
Hiding is a characteristic of people who carry shame. It’s hard to be yourself among those who would judge you for your associations. Worship that is pure and holy requires a level of trusting candour. It makes us uncomfortably aware that others have said they don’t consider members of a shamed tribe as acceptable. It’s easy to subconsciously wear their judgment after years of disrespect.
Our mothers taught us as very young children that to be polite and considerate we need to keep some parts of ourselves hidden in good company. I am in no way advocating public nudity! I’m just saying there is no point to wearing metaphorical masks or costumes in God’s presence. It’s not as if he doesn’t know everything already. In a sense honest, humble prayer means praying naked (metaphorically!).
When we invite God to shine his pure clarifying light on our lives, it will expose things we need to acknowledge, confess and allow the Lord to clean up. It shows us how to change direction. That purifying light will also expose lies we have believed. It reveals the difference between false identity and true identity. We are not who the accuser says we are. We are who our Heavenly Father says we are. We have nothing to hide. This is freedom. It is a freedom the Sons of Korah long for. Verse 4:
Then I will go to God’s altar with nothing to hide. I will go to God, my rapture; I will sing praises to You and play my strings, unloading my cares, unleashing my joys, to You, God, my God.
Psalm 43 ends with the same declaration as Psalm 42. I’ll leave verse 5 here in The Voice paraphrase.
O my soul, why are you so overwrought? Why are you so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will hope in God again. I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life, My Savior and my God.
“What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God’s place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.“