Summary: An expository message admonishing believers to a life of praise and good works.

“Praise That is Pleasing”

Hebrews 13:15-16

August 25, 2002

The Rev’d Quintin Morrow

Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Fort Worth, Texas

The Text: Hebrews 13:15-16

The Text Summary:

The author of Hebrews admonishes believers to a lifestyle of offering praise to God; the praise that pleases Him begins with appreciation for His blessings and results in actions that glorify Him.

The Message Outline:

I. The admonition to a lifestyle of praise to God.

a. Offering praise to God is the believer’s joy and duty.

b. Authentic praise necessarily involves sacrifice.

1. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant:

a. Burnt offerings.

b. Grain offerings.

c. Peace offerings.

d. Sin and guilt offerings.

2. The sacrifices of the New Covenant:

a. The death of Christ (Rom. 5:6-10; Is. 53:4-12; Mk. 14:22-26).

b. The “death” (self-offering) of the believer (Rom. 6:3-13, 12:1; Matt. 10:38-39).

II. The anatomy of praise to God.

a. Authentic praise begins with the (grateful) heart and moves to the (joyous) lips.

b. Authentic praise progresses from an attitude of gratitude to actions that glorify God.

1. “Do good” is to obey the Lord.

2. “To share” is to distribute in the Lord’s name.

III. The acceptance of praise by God (“for with such sacrifices God is well pleased”).

The story is told of a young French soldier, during the First World War, who received a serious wound during the Battle of the Somme. The young man’s right arm had been so severely damaged that it had to be amputated. The soldier was a magnify-cent specimen of manhood, and the surgeon was heartbroken that the young man would thereafter go though life maimed. The physician waited by the bedside of the officer to tell him the bad news about his arm when he regained consciousness. When the lad’s eyes opened, the surgeon said to him: “I am sorry to tell you that you lost your right arm.” “Sir,” the officer said with tears, “I didn’t lose it; I gave it—for France.”

Adopting a lifestyle of offering and sacrifice is the exactly the point of Hebrews chapter 13, verses 15-16. Here, the anonymous author of this letter to a group of Hebrew believers, admonishes his readers to develop a lifestyle of offering sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. But the admonition doesn’t end there, but rather only begins there. The epistle’s author, in these two short verses, is actually describing the kind of praise that pleases God. The kind of praise that pleases God, he will argue, is a praise that is continuous; praise that begins with a grateful heart for blessings received, and moves to expression in song and prayer and testimony through joyous lips; and praise that progresses from words that glorify God to deeds that glorify Him.

By way of background, you will recall that the Book of Hebrews was penned by an anonymous author under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to a group of Jewish Christians who appear at the time of the letter’s composition to be weakening in their commitment to Christ, because of persecution and social pressures, and are contemplating a return to Judaism. The author of this epistle is well aware of the disastrous consequences of that course of action, and so writes a polemical letter to persuade these faltering believers to stay united to Jesus Christ. The argument of the entire letter is quite simple. Jesus Christ is superior to angels, to the prophets, to the Law, the sacrifices, the temple, and the priesthood. In fact, he will actually argue that all of those Old Covenant principles and ceremonies were only instituted temporarily by God to point to the coming redemptive work of Jesus Christ anyway. They never were intended to be permanent, but were transitory and their end—their fulfillment—was Christ. Consequently, the letter argues, don’t exchange the superior for the inferior, the eternal for the temporal, or the end for the means.

Chapter 13 of the letter to the Hebrews is the last portion of this epistle. Unlike the previous 12 chapters, the author here abandons the logical progression of his argument and instead concentrates his closing remarks on short, pithy, words to encourage specific behavioral changes in his readers. He reminds them that marriage is honorable and that the immoral are liable to judgment. He admonishes them to treat strangers hospitably, because Abram and Lot by doing so were actually entertaining angels unawares. He requests their prayers, reminds them of the blessings of the eternal covenant which we have inherited by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, warns them to tolerate no false doctrine, and encourages these disciples to respect and honor those who are over them as teachers of the Word of God.

And buried in this treasure-trove of Gospel instruction, warning, and encouragement, we find these two pearls of great price: Hebrews 13:15-16:

15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for owith such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Here the author of Hebrews encourages believers to a lifestyle of offering praise to God; and the praise that is acceptable—or which pleases God—is that sacrificial praise that begins with appreciation for His blessings and results in actions that glorify Him.

The admonition begins in verse 15 with a command for believers to make praising God an essential component of their Christian lives. “Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God,” he says. Praising God should not just be an hour-long, Sunday activity. We can’t cordon off and compartmentalize praise, and restrict to a once-a-week optional exercise. Praise is too important for that.

As Evangelical Protestants we are prone to a common misunderstanding as to what the church exists primarily to do. Shake us in our sleep and ask, “What’s the primary job of the church?” We’ll say, “Matthew 28:19—‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.’” But that’s wrong. The primary purpose of the church is to offer praise and worship to God. This isn’t to say that evangelism isn’t important. It is. But it isn’t the primary vocation of the Church—praise is.

What this means corporately for us is that praising God and worshipping Him in Spirit and in truth must be the most important thing we do. “What is the chief end of man,” the Westminster Catechism asks as its first question. The answer? “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” The entire Bible can be summed up in one word: Redemption. And why were we redeemed? To do what we were created to do: Glorify God. Everything we do at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church—every program, every effort, every project—must flow from the unassailable conviction that we are here to glorify God. We evangelize the lost that they might be saved by the blood of Jesus and glorify Him with us. We disciple believers that they might know what actions, attitudes and words bring glory to God. We visit the sick, the prisoner, the despondent, we help the orphan, the addicted, and the poor because those things glorify the Lord.

Individually, this command to praise the Lord means that our days ought to be marked by praise. Praise in the morning. Praise at coffee break. Praise when the mind is wandering. Praise over meals. Praise with the family before bed. We think worship and praise are optional for us but they aren’t. Scripture describes praise as both our obligation—something we owe God—and a joy. In fact, the desire to worship and praise God is exhibit A that your conversion is genuine. Praise ought to be in your DNA as a believer. If you are saved you ought to want to be near and thank the one who saved you.

We should praise God at all times, for everything—even in tough times, for difficult things. The great 19th century Scottish preacher, Alexander Whyte, always began his prayers with words of thanks and praise to God. One cold, miserable, rainy Sunday morning his congregation wondered how he would begin his prayer on this day. He prayed, “We thank thee, O Lord, that it is not always like this.”

Notice, too, that with the admonition to a lifestyle of praise comes the description of praise as a sacrifice. In fact, the word “sacrifice” is used twice in these two verses. “Therefore by Him let us continually offer lthe sacrifice of praise to God,” and “But do not forget to do good and to share, for owith such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Biblical praise is a sacrifice. It is something we owe and desire to offer to God, because of who He is and what He has done. In sum, it must cost us something.

In the Old Testament God prescribed the sacrifices His people were to offer. Since theirs was an agrarian economy, and the people made their living by livestock and farming, the sacrifices God required were from the field and the stall. Burnt offerings were voluntary sacrifices and the offering of bulls or sheep or goat on the altar in the tabernacle. Grain offerings were meal and oil and frankincense offered, roasted, to the Lord. Peace offerings were animals sacrificed in gratitude and celebration. Sin and guilt offerings were atonements made for violations of the Law to restore the worshipper to proper fellowship in the covenant community.

In the New Testament two important sacrifices are brought into view: The death of Jesus Christ for our sins which inaugurated this New Covenant, and the “death”, or the self-offering, of the believer, in response to His sacrifice. As to the former, we are reminded in Hebrews 10 that we are sanctified by the sacrifice of Christ, made “once for all.” As to our response, Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we are to share in Christ’s death by putting to death our old, sinful natures, so that we might rise with Christ to walk in newness of life.

The true story is told of a woman who called the consumer helpline of the Butterball Turkey Company one year, just prior to Thanksgiving, to ask a question. “Is it safe to eat a turkey that’s been in the freezer for 25 years?” the lady asked. The man on the other end indicated that if the turkey had never been thawed it shouldn’t present any danger. But he added, “I can’t imagine that after 25 years in the freezer the turkey would have much taste.” “Well,” the woman replied, “That’s what I thought, anyway. I’m planning to donate it to the church.”

Offerings that don’t cost you aren’t sacrifices. Praise that pleases God—or, in the biblical language, praise that God delights in and accepts—is praise that is a lifestyle, and which costs us something.

Secondly, notice that the author of Hebrews gives us an anatomy of praise. That is, he describes in simple terms what authentic praise looks like.

Genuine, acceptable, God-honoring praise is praise that first of all begins with the grateful heart and moves to joyous lips. During His earthly ministry Jesus had to exhort the people he healed, delivered, or raised from the dead NOT to go around spread the word about what God had done to them through Christ. And even then He was hardly ever successful. By contrast, it is very difficult to get us TO open our mouths and sing in church, say the prayers, speak about Christ to friends and co-workers. The difference? I suspect it is one of gratitude. Really grateful hearts cannot be silenced. It has been cynically observed that modern Americans tend to worship our work, to work at our play, and to play at our worship. Truly humble, grateful hearts cannot help but speak what has been done for them through joyful lips. Jesus said it in Matt. 12:34: “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

But words alone do not acceptable praise make. Yes, let us continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise. Let us open our mouths and sing, and pray, and speak good of His name. But that isn’t enough. Acceptable praise begins with a grateful heart and is vocalized in joyous song and word; its ultimate end, however, is a life of self-offering which is manifested in actions that glorify the Lord. Genuine praise—the “Real McCoy”—demands Christians not just talking the talk, but walking the walk; it means putting our money—and for that matter all that we are and have—where our mouth is. In view of all God’s mercies, you, Believer, present your body as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable God, which is the only reasonable response to all God has done for you, is how Paul puts it in Romans 12:1. The author of Hebrews says this: “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Genuine, acceptable praise begins with a word of thanks at the beginning of the day, and proceeds to a demeanor of holiness at the office. Pleasing praise begins with robust singing here on Sunday morning, attention to the Word and to prayer, and then gets off its backside to flower into a life of love and good works outside these doors. To “do good” is to be obedient to the Lord’s commands. To “share” is give a little of what God has given to you for things that He values in His name. The General Thanksgiving in Morning and Evening Prayer says it biblically and succinctly this way:

And, we beseech thee, give is that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days.

The questions this morning are two. The first is, How is your praise doing? Is it a lifestyle? Will you make it one? Does it cost you? The second is, What is your praise doing? Find a ministry that needs you, your gifts, your time, your money, your love, and make it your own. You can’t do anything, but you can do something. If you’re just warming a pew here, you’ve got this Christian living thing wrong. Get involved. Take ownership of a ministry. There are no insignificant jobs in the Kingdom of God. Get in and work as unto the Lord. Do good. Share. For with that kind of living—habitual, sacrificial giving—God is well pleased.

Praise the Lord

Praise Him when the sun is shining,

When the winds of trouble blow,

When you see no silver lining

On the clouds that hang so low.

Praise illumines clouds of sorrow,

Turns the gray skies into gold

Giving promise of a morrow

Bright with blessings manifold.

Praise Him when your load is heavy

And the day no comfort brings,

Then your burden God will carry,

Bear you as on eagles’ wings.

God delights to have us praise Him,

And believe His holy Word;

And He knoweth them that trust Him,

For they always praise the Lord.

--Ida A Guirey