The Worship Imperatives

Psalm 96

August 15, 2015 | Brian Bill

Have you ever tried to do a tug-of-war with God?  How’d that work out for you?  We’ve seen how David wrestled with the Almighty in Psalm 42, only to give in at the end.  Last week from Psalm 51 we saw that David moved from Conviction to Confession to Cleansing to Consecration to Contrition.

Some of you already read Psalm 63 in anticipation of the sermon for this weekend.  Great job if you did.  I decided to change it up because as I dove in I realized that this psalm is quite similar to other psalms we have already studied.  In addition, I’ve sensed that the messages have been pretty heavy recently so today we’ll be in Psalm 96, which we just saw displayed on the screens.

This song of worship is very similar to 1 Chronicles 16, when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to its resting place.  The context of Psalm 96, however, covers the period of time when the exiles returned from the Babylonian captivity.

4 Imperatives of Worship

At the risk of breaking the flow of this holy hymn, I see four imperatives for us today.  An imperative is a vitally important and authoritative command. 

  • Exalt His Name (verses 1-2a)
  • Extend His Kingdom (verses 2b-3)
  • Express His Greatness (verses 4-9)
  • Expect His Coming (verses 10-13)

1 – Exalt His Name

The first imperative is to Exalt His Name.  God is mentioned by name or pronoun in every verse but 11-12.  Look at verses 1-2a: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!  Sing to the Lord, bless His name.”  We’re called in this passage to sing to the Lord three different times.  When something’s repeated in triplicate its done to get our attention – much like the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of Isaiah 6.  

Singing out to our triune God started way back at creation in Job 38:7 where we read that “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”  There has been singing and shouting from the beginning of time and there will be more singing at the end of the age.  Revelation 15:3 records the song of the Lamb: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”  

Since the world was created with a symphony of joyful praise and all creation will break into song when Jesus comes again, we’re called to sing to the Lord in the meantime — as we wait for His appearing.  I love how much this congregation sings during our gathering times!  In many churches congregational singing has been replaced with congregational staring.  Let’s not ever let that happen here.  For those of us without good voices, let’s keep making a joyful noise to the Lord.

Notice that we are to sing a “new song” to the Lord.  This can refer to something that is brand new and can also mean, “delightful, precious and exquisite.”  When something is new it is fresh. While I love singing songs I already know, I really like it when we learn new ones as well.  We had a great mix today as we opened with a hymn by Charles Wesley and also sang songs by Casting Crowns and Mercy Me. 

New hymns and new praise songs are essential to meet the ever-varying manifestations of God’s multi-faceted character.  This expression “new song” occurs several times in the Book of Psalms indicating that fresh outbursts of rejoicing and reverence are important to God and helpful to us.

Can you imagine what would happen if newscasts reported on last month’s stories instead of what is happening today?  It wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?  When we served as missionaries, my mother-in-law would send me old copies of the Chicago Tribune.  I loved reading what had happened weeks earlier but it was nothing like picking up a daily newspaper when we arrived back in the states.

I wonder if some of us are still reading “old news” in our spiritual lives.  It’s been so long since we’ve experienced anything fresh with the Lord that we’re just living on the fumes of what we used to have in our relationship with Christ.  I like what Martin Luther said in this regard, “Christ is now as fresh unto me as if He had shed His blood but this very hour.” 

2 – Extend His Kingdom

That leads us to the second imperative of worship: Extend His Kingdom.  Take a look at verses 2 and 3: “…tell [proclaim good tidings] of His salvation from day to day.  Declare [recount, replay] His glory [heaviness, majesty] among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.” 

We’re told how to extend His kingdom – we’re to tell of His salvation.  We’re also told when to do it – day to day.  And, we’re told where to do it – among the nations, among all peoples

The only message that we really have today is that Jesus saves.  Your friends and family members need to hear – from you – what salvation is all about.  

Because of what we’ve received, our method is to proclaim good tidings of His salvation on a daily basis to those around us.  When we gather and grow, we will want to give and go.  When you are full of His presence in your life you can’t help but share the Good News.  

I’m personally challenged to speak about Jesus in whatever context I find myself in.  I had two opportunities to do that on Thursday, one of them with a neighbor.  I made a commitment when I was a student at Moody Bible Institute to try to share the gospel with at least one person every day.  I haven’t always been successful but have recently made a recommitment to do this.  Will you join me?

Our mandate as believers is to make sure this gospel message is not just shared with people we know, but that it goes out to “the nations” and to “all peoples.”  In short, we are called to become “world Christians” who focus and pray for world evangelization.  Just as the nation of Israel was called to think beyond its borders, so too, we need to think beyond our ethnocentric parameters to see an entire world in need of Christ.  Jesus clarified this mandate when He said in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”  

We are called to go to every nation and to all the peoples!  Are you aware that there are still approximately 6,600 people groups who have not yet heard the gospel?

I’m thrilled to be involved with a church that takes this mandate seriously as we partner with missionaries serving all over the globe.  Representatives from every nation and tribe and tongue will one day be in Heaven.  What a joy to have a part in helping them get there!

Worship leads to witnessing

Before leaving this point, don’t miss the order here.  Worship leads to witnessing.  Exalting leads to extending.

3 – Express His Greatness

As we Exalt His Name and look for ways to Extend His Kingdom, we will be drawn into the third worship imperative – we will want to Express His Greatness.  Follow along as I read verses 4-9: “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.  Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!  Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!”

God is not just a tribal god, but is King over all the nations.  He is most worthy of praise.  While some people worship ugly and worthless idols, only the Creator God is worthy of praise.  That phrase “worthless idols” is a play on words in the Hebrew.  Elilim refers to “nothings or nonentities.”  Elohim, is the name for the true God, the Creator of Heaven and earth.  

I was rocked when I read Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on this psalm: “Praise should be proportionate to its object, therefore let it be infinite when rendered unto the Lord.  We cannot praise Him too much, too often, too zealously, to carefully, too joyfully.  He deserves that nothing in his worship should be little, but all the honour rendered unto Him should be given in largeness of heart with the utmost zeal for His glory.”

In verse 6, four attributes are personified as if they were attendants surrounding the throne – “splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”  When we lived in Mexico we saw idols that were constructed by the Aztecs.  Many of them were gruesome and ugly.  Not so with the One who causes things to exist where there was nothing before.  God is not horrid but is instead holy and beautiful, arrayed in splendor, clothed with majesty, and armed with power and glory that is brighter than the sun.

The psalmist has renewed urgency in proclaiming the Lord in verses 7-9.  Three times in a row he challenges us to “ascribe,” or give, to the Lord what is due His name.  This three-fold use of “ascribe” parallels the three uses of “sing” in the opening verses. 

It’s interesting that even though “the nations” are called to worship the Lord, it is the “families” of the nations that are singled out to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord.  This takes us all the way back to the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

This week in his Briefing, Albert Mohler higlighted a new book by a secular author called, “Relax, It’s Just God,” in which a mom argues on behalf of secular parenting.  Interestingly, one day her young daughter started talking about God: “I was in the car, and my daughter announced to me that God had made her and that God had, in fact, made all children and all people…you know, she was so incredulous because she just thought, this seems like really big news, and how you don’t know it, mommy, is really beyond me.”  This shows that children instinctively know that there is a God who created them!

God has ordained the family unit as a special and unique creation of His.  As parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, we must do all we can to make sure our families are honoring God as we live on mission for Him.  In light of that, we are committed to do all we can to come alongside families in the faith formation of their children and teenagers.  We also value our singles and couples without children.

When this psalm was written people would take offerings to the Temple.  This specific word refers to “thank offerings,” or those things that people would give out of gratitude to the Lord for all that He has done.  I was amazed when I looked up the word “bring” in my concordance – it’s listed 684 times!  Listen to verse 8: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.”

The word “worship” literally means to “fall on your face or bow down.”  It’s to recognize our place before God and to acknowledge His position before us.

There are at least three ways that we can bring an offering to the Lord today.  

  1. Romans 12:1 tells us to bring our bodies to the Lord because we owe Him our very lives: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
  2. When we adore God with music, Hebrews 13:15 says that we are offering a sacrifice of praise: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
  3. We also worship God as we offer our financial resources to Him and His kingdom purposes.   We bring our tithes and offerings because we have a deep need to express something important to God.  Malachi 3 teaches that when we hold back in our giving, we end up robbing God and missing out on His blessings.  Listen for the word “bring” in verse 10: Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

Verse 9 teaches that we worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness through our offerings.  When we tremble before Him, we will want to give all that we can to Him.  Why?  Because He deserves it.  

4 – Expect His Coming

As we exalt His name, we will eagerly look for ways to extend His kingdom.  This then motivates us to express His greatness.  The final imperative is found in verses 10-13 where we’re called to expect His coming.  Look at verse 10:  Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns! [We just asked God to reign in us while we were singing] Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”

Our message to the nations is to tell them that the Lord reigns.  Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”

Psalm 2 tells us that right now the nations are raging against God and “setting themelves against the Lord and against His anointed.”  But that’s about to change!  He’s in charge.  He’s the ruler and He’s the judge.  The word “judge” carries with it the idea that God sovereignly rules over the nations, and will judge everyone with fairness and equity.  

In verses 11-12 we see that the whole creation, when pondering God’s rule, breaks out into joyful praise.  The heavens will be glad, the earth will rejoice, the sea will roar, the fields will exult, and all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.  Inanimate creation will be animated with adoration!  If the creation worships, then so should we, right?

The last stanza of this hymn gives us great hope that Jesus is coming again: “For He comes, for He comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”  Jesus will dispense justice, will vindicate believers, and will establish truth forever.  His kingdom will have no end.

wait and to worship and to witness

In the mean time, we are called to wait and to worship and to witness.   We also need to be ready ourselves so that we do not shrink away in shame when He suddenly appears.

Action Steps

As we wrap up here are some action steps. 

1. Learn more about unreached people groups. 

To learn more about unreached people groups, check out  Stop by the table in the lobby to pick up some resources.

2. Listen to worship music every day. 

Listen to Moody Radio or K-Love or download praise music that draws you into worship.

3. Continue neighboring. 

As we’ve discovered in this psalm, singing leads to sowing.  When we praise Him we will want to proclaim Him.  Will you make a commitment to have some sort of gospel conversation every day?

4. Pray for our missionaries on a regular basis. 

Pray for the missionary of the week in the bulletin.  Click around on the mission video board.  Pick up prayer letters. 

5. Get ready for Jesus to come back. 

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, you need to ask Him to rescue you from your sins.  If you’re a believer, make sure you’re walking with Him, and that there’s nothing going on that would cause you to be embarrassed if He came back tonight. 


Are you battling God?  Are you in a tug of war or are you worshipping Him?  It’s time to surrender and let Him reign in you.  Ask Him to give you one pure and holy passion.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?