Scriptures: Luke 6:46-49; Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:43-49
- I will build my life
- Worthy of every song
- Holy, there is no one like you
When we were training for ministry our Greek lecturer, Brian Smith, told us how most people in churches learn their theology from the hymns and songs they sing in church each week
- Theology sounds like an impressive word but really it just means thinking or talking about God.
- Whenever you think or talk about God you are doing theology
- Brian’s point was that the songs we sing in church have a profound influence on the way we perceive God
- When words are put to music they tend to stick in our memory better – they also make a connection with our heart
- We find ourselves unconsciously singing worship songs in the car or in the shower – and the meaning we attach to the words shapes our relationship with God
With this in view, today we begin a new sermon series called ‘Anthems’
- In this series I plan to look at the lyrics of one hymn or Christian worship song each week to see how that song informs our theology and how it connects with Scripture and the history of our faith.
- The purpose is not to find fault with the words but to guide our thinking and help us to interpret the songs in the best possible light
I like what N.T. Wright says about worship…
“Put it this way: if your idea of God, if your idea of the salvation offered in Christ, is vague or remote, your idea of worship will be fuzzy and ill-formed. The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you. That’s why theology and worship belong together. The one isn’t just a head-trip; the other isn’t just emotion.”
Some of the songs we will look at are old and others relatively new. Most you will be familiar with and others are less well known
- Today’s song is Build My Life, written by Pat Barrett
Worthy of every song we could ever sing.
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring.
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe, we live for you
Jesus, a name above every other name.
Jesus, the only one that could ever save.
Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe, we live for you…
Holy, there is no one like you,
There is none beside you,
Open up my eyes in wonder.
Show me who you are
and fill me with your heart
And lead me in your love
to those around me.
will build my life upon your love,
It is a firm foundation.
I will put my trust in you alone
And I will not be shaken.
I will build my life:
Build My Life was released in 2016, so it is a fairly new song, but it is based on some quite ancient ideas
- Pat Barrett is a singer/songwriter and worship leader from Grace Midtown, a church in Atlanta, Georgia
- He has written a number of Christian songs including “Good, Good Father”. Barrett is married with three young children.
Pat Barrett said the song, Build My Life, came to him over a number of years, at a time when he was looking for steadiness in his life, because he was going through quite a bit change and uncertainty.
The bridge is the heart of the song, and it also happens to be the first part of the song that Barrett wrote, so we will start with that…
build my life upon your love, it is a firm foundation.
I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.
In an interview Barrett said, life rarely behaves with our plans. It is usually the uncertainty, the not knowing, the trials that reveal what we’ve been standing on the whole time (and by ‘standing on’ he means, what we’ve put our trust in)
- Metaphorically, when you sing this song, you are looking up to worship God but at the same time you are also looking down to keep your footing
- What am I standing on? Is it my career, my image (or persona), is it money? Those things aren’t steady – they don’t provide a firm foundation
- The invitation from Jesus is to put your feet on the rock and find strength in him
Please turn with me to Luke chapter 6, verse 46, on page 85 toward the back of your pew Bibles
- Barrett says he had this passage from Luke 6 in mind when he wrote the words of the bridge. This is what Jesus says from verses 46-49…
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet don’t do what I tell you? 47 Anyone who comes to me and listens to my words and obeys them—I will show you what he is like. 48 He is like a man who, in building his house, dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. The river overflowed and hit that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But anyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a man who built his house without laying a foundation; when the flood hit that house it fell at once—and what a terrible crash that was!”
May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate God’s Word for us
In Jesus’ day building a house was a strenuous exercise. They didn’t have heavy machinery (like diggers) to excavate the foundations and so everything had to be done by hand. It required an enormous effort 
They couldn’t really build during winter because it was too wet so they had to build in summer
- The problem was the high clay content in the soil combined with the heat made digging extremely hard going
- It would have been tempting to simply build on top of the clay soil
- The ground certainly seemed hard enough in the heat of summer
- But when the winter rains came the soil went soft and washed away
- So if the foundations didn’t go down deep enough (all the way to base rock) the house would fall.
The clay soil which seems hard in summer but washes away in winter represents the lies we sometimes believe and build our lives on
- While the bed rock represents the teaching of Jesus – steadfast & true
Jesus says in this parable that those who hear his teaching and obey it are like the man who does the hard yards and digs down to lay his foundation on rock
- The implication being that it is not enough simply to hear and agree with what Jesus says – we also need to do what Jesus says
- And doing what Jesus says – loving our enemies, not judging others, being honest with ourselves, and forgiving – all of that is the hard part
- Like digging down through baked clay it is difficult
- Difficult yes – but also necessary if we don’t want to come to ruin.
One of the more obvious things to note in this parable is that there is a storm and it hits both houses
- The implication is that when we follow Jesus and align our lives with his teaching, we still face storms, we still suffer in a whole variety of ways
- The difference is that God brings us strong through the storm
But this is not all there is to the parable. Jesus’ Jewish listeners would have heard more…
In Isaiah 28 God says through the prophet…
- I am placing in Zion a foundation that is firm and strong. In it I am putting a solid corner-stone on which are written the words, ‘Faith that is firm is also patient.’ Justice will be the measuring-line for the foundation, and honesty will be its plumb-line.
Zion is a reference to Jerusalem
- In the temple in Jerusalem (in the holy of holies) there was a special foundation stone on which the Ark of the Covenant used to sit
- When the ark was taken away the priests put a fire pan on the foundation
- The fire pan burned incense – a symbol of the people’s prayers to God.
When Jesus told the parable of the two builders he was really saying…
- I am the firm & strong foundation stone promised by Isaiah
- Build on me and my words and you will not be shaken
Now this was an incredible thing to declare
- Jesus was saying that the new temple, promised by God 700 hundred years earlier, was not going to be a building but a person and that he (Jesus) is that person
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the apostle writes…
You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.
When we build our lives on the firm foundation of Christ, we too become part of that new temple promised by God
Think about that for a moment – it is a profound idea
- The temple is a place of reconciliation – a place where sacrifices are offered and peace is made
- The temple is also the place of God’s presence – a place where his Spirit dwells and people are close to God
- When we build our lives on Christ we become God’s sacred and holy people.
Returning to Pat Barrett’s song. Some of you will have noticed that the words in Pat’s bridge don’t exactly mirror the words in Jesus’ parable in Luke 6
- The foundation Jesus had in mind was his teaching or his ‘words’, whereas Pat Barrett describes the foundation as, ‘your love’, meaning God’s love for us in Christ
- Although Barrett is using a bit of poetic license here, he gets it right – Jesus’ teaching is an expression of his love.
- In fact, Jesus’ message (his word) was, love God and love your neighbour
- Before we can do what Jesus teaches we must first know we are loved by God – love and grace come before obedience
- Our obedience to God’s word (as embodied in Christ) needs to grow out of love for God, not out of fear or guilt
The idea of God’s love being a firm foundation on which to build our lives is found in Ephesians 3, where Paul talks about putting our roots down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love
- So we can sing this bridge with confidence, knowing it is based in the wisdom of Scripture.
Worthy of every song:
What about the verses then – what meaning can we glean from them?
- Well, if the bridge is about looking down to keep our footing then the verses are about looking up to worship God.
Verse 1 repeats the word worthy three times
- The term ‘worship’ comes from an old English word meaning ‘worth-ship’. Worship is about ascribing worth
- We make the effort to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and come to church to sing songs of praise to God because he is worth it
- Francis Chan is quoted as saying…
- His perfect holiness, by definition, assures us our words can’t contain Him. Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate.
- I love the last verse of the gospel of John, where the apostle says…
- Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Worthy of every song we could ever sing
Worthy of all the praise we could ever bring
- That’s a way of saying, our words can’t contain God; our praise can never really do justice to God; even the whole world would not have enough room for all the books that could be written about the Lord’s deeds.
And for those who may be thinking, ‘Yea, but worship is more than singing’, Pat Barrett is way ahead of you, because his very next line is…
- Worthy of every breath we could ever breathe, we live for you.
- The idea here is that worship isn’t just something we do in church on a Sunday. Worship is like breathing – it is threaded through all of life.
- Worship is primarily about how we live
We live for you, picks up Paul’s thought in Romans 12 where he says…
- Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
- We try to live our lives in a way that pleases God because he is worth it
- Living for God ties in with what Jesus was saying in Luke 6, about obedience to his teaching
- ‘We live for you’ Lord is another way of saying, ‘I will build my life on your love’.
One of the things I like about this song is way it uses both plural and singular pronouns
- The words, we live for you, reminds us that worship isn’t just an individual thing. It’s something we do in community with other believers
- At the same time the words in the bridge, I will build my life, remind us that worship involves a personal commitment.
- Worship is both we and I – it is both public and personal
- I’m not sure if Pat Barrett intended all this meaning but it’s what I glean from it.
Verse 2 begins…
- Jesus a name above every other name.
- Jesus’ name is both his reputation and his integrity
- This is a direct quote from Philippians 2, verse 9, where the apostle Paul writes about imitating the humility of Christ…
5 In your
relationships with one another, have the same mind-set as Christ Jesus: 6 Who,
being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to
be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The thing that makes Jesus’ name great, the reason God gave Jesus a name that is above every other name, is that Jesus was obedient to God.
- The foundation of Jesus’ life was loving obedience to God the Father
- Once again this connects with the bridge of the song – the building of our life gets it integrity, it’s strength, from loving obedience to Christ.
The second line in verse 2; Jesus, the only one that could ever save, is a reference to the Christian doctrine that salvation from sin and death is found in Christ alone (Solo Christo)
- This doctrine comes from Martin Luther, the great church reformer of the 16th Century, who got it from his understanding of the New Testament
- For example, where Jesus says to his disciples…
- “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- Salvation through Christ alone is an unpopular belief in our contemporary society – so verse 2 is quite a provocative line to sing
Holy, there is no one like you:
And so we come to the chorus
- If the verses look up in worship of God and the bridge looks down at where we are standing, then the chorus looks both in to the heart and out to our neighbor.
Holy, there is no one like you, there is none beside you, open up my eyes in wonder…
The word holy means ‘set apart’. To be holy is to be different, special, sacred
- Jesus is unique. He is beyond compare.
- Holiness goes together with wonder
- Wonder is a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar – something holy in other words
The thing is, not everyone recognizes Jesus’ holiness
- To many of the people of his day Jesus appeared to be like anyone else
- Jesus’ holiness, his glory, is hidden at first – we need our eyes opened in wonder so we can appreciate just who he is.
In John chapter 1, Philip says to Nathanael, ‘Look, we’ve found the Messiah. Come and meet him. He is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’
- And Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
- I imagine Nathanael was a bit like Mr Darcy, he despised anything false or pretentious. He had no patience for the games people play and wasn’t too bothered by who he offended, so long as he spoke the truth
- People like Nathanael don’t make great diplomats – they may come across as a bit rude, a bit blunt, and are therefore often misunderstood
- Nevertheless, Nathanael goes with Philip anyway.
- When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said about him, “Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!”
- Jesus could see into Nathanael’s heart and that touches Nathanael – he says to Jesus, “How do you know me?”
- Perhaps for the first time in his life Nathanael felt truly understood and accepted for who he was. Jesus gets me.
- Jesus’ wise insight and acceptance opens Nathanael’s eyes in wonder
- Nathanael declares, “Teacher,” you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
G.K. Chesterton once said, ‘We are perishing for lack of wonder, not for lack of wonders.’
- I suppose Chesterton meant that God is doing wonderful things all the time, all around us, we just don’t have the sense of wonder that is needed to appreciate them
- The wonder of God, the beauty of his holiness, his goodness, is the inspiration for our worship
The second part of the chorus reads…
- Show me who you are and fill me with your heart,
- And lead me in your love to those around me.
‘Fill me with your heart’ is a significant thing to say
- To be filled with God’s heart is to be filled with His love – while God’s love is a good thing, to be filled with it is also a painful thing. God’s love comes with suffering – so this is a brave line to sing
- To be filled with God’s heart is also to be filled the Spirit of Jesus
- These words are talking about intimacy with God, through Jesus
- It is as we abide in Christ (the vine) that we bear the fruit of love for our neighbours
- It is as we build our life on Christ that we find the strength to love those around us.
- Whatever storm you may be facing, whatever uncertainty you may be going through, Jesus provides a firm foundation.
Questions for discussion or reflection:
- Listen to the song, ‘Build My Life’, by Pat Barrett. What are you in touch with as you listen to this song? (What connections, memories or feelings does it evoke for you?)
- Discuss / reflect on the significance of the parable of the two builders in Luke? For example; What does it mean to build your life on Jesus’ teaching? How might Jesus’ original Jewish audience have understood this parable? What foundation are you building your life on?
- How does the line in the song, “we live for you”, connect with Romans 12:1? What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
- Why does God give Jesus the name that is above every other name? How does Jesus redefine greatness?
- What does it mean to ask God to fill us with His heart?
- Do you still have a sense of wonder? Take some time this week to notice and appreciate the wonders of God all around you. Lose yourself in wonder, awe and praise of the what God has accomplished in Christ.
 Many of the insights on Luke 6:46-49 were gleaned from Kenneth Bailey’s book, ‘Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes’, pages 321-331.