Give glory to God alone – Psalm 115

It might seem obvious that Christians are to give glory to God alone, but in truth we find ourselves not always doing that. Psalm 115 reflects on how there is only one living God who loves you, is faithful to you, and who gives to you what you truly need. And it also causes you to reflect on why idols are so useless – and yet also to ask why you have so many in your life.

And given that we’re looking at a set of psalms especially sung by Jews at Passover time, there’s a special motivation for us as Christians to sing this psalm – and even more so for Christian parents and grandparents…

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Choose to glorify God (1-8)

At the heart of the first half of the psalm is the difference between worshipping things you can see and God whom you can’t see. We spend time focussed on the stuff right in front of us – for all sorts of reasons, often very good. Many people will fill their whole lives with material stuff and never give a thought to spiritual matters. Except, maybe, for some vague nice idea that heaven is nicely waiting for them, where they’ll be reunited with loved ones in some warm, fuzzy place

Psalm 115 pulls it all apart and forces you to think clearly.

And it begins with recognising God for who he is and what he’s like. Read Psalm 115:1.

The psalmist is making a choice – not to give glory to ourselves, our brilliance, or things we’ve made or done. He’s only going to give glory to God: To his name – the LORD (Yahweh). The God who lives and shares himself with you in relationship. God who exists in infinite, eternal, independent self-existence but who binds himself to puny people with covenant promises of love.

Glory to God who loves you with unfailing love – that wonderful marriage love, full of commitment.

The God of faithfulness – unwavering in his love towards you, despite your many failings and setbacks. He is always, always ready to forgive and welcome you back.

Unseen God

This God is, of course, unseen to us. He’s bound to be really, because he’s outside creation. To be seen, he’d need to step into that creation – maybe even become human!

People might say to you, “There’s no proof there’s a God!” We’ll come back to that. For now, read Psalm 115:2-3.

He’s quite unapologetic about God (of course). But he does go on to spell out the utter hopelessness of looking for meaning or hope or purpose in anything in the world. In Psalm 115:4-8 he gives a pretty caustic appraisal of the gods people have in their lives:

  • They can’t talk, see, hear, smell, touch, walk or even hum!
  • And the punchline is in v8 – read Psalm 115:8.

Now, in our culture people don’t usually bow down to family shrines, or statues, or the like. But they do have idols.

And where you have idols, you have lives shaped round them.

You become what you worship

You become like what you worship. Some obvious examples:

  • Footballers are idols to many, and many boys and girls dream of being like Ronaldo or Lucy Bronze.
  • Pop stars are idols too – and young people might have posters up, dress like them, have the hair, even attitudes.
  • You become like what you worship.
    • At a deeper level, there’s a yearning for that lifestyle, or a yearning for adoration.
    • And, since most people never reach that dream, the idols remain unfulfilling and only fuel unhappiness.

Now those are obvious examples, and if you’re a Christian you’ll say that you only worship God. Only God lives and gives, where gods and idols are lifeless and only take. But you do have good things in your life that can be a means towards worshipping him – especially when you remember that worship isn’t only a Sunday thing, but a whole-life devotion!

Worshipping worship?

So we come to church to worship God. In song, in prayer, in hearing his word read and preached.

  • But what we do here is a means to an end. The end is worship; the means is our music, our readings, etc.
  • But it’s possible to worship worship. You can only “worship” in a certain style, with old or new songs, with good coffee, with the lights up or down…
  • It can even be the hymns that bring you joy rather than the God you’re actually singing about. Worshipping the means

Daily idols

Your mobile phone is great for communicating, maintaining community, and even daily Bible reading and prayer.

  • But very often your phone controls you.
  • “Don’t be silly,” you say. I say, “Was that your phone? I think you’ve got a text.” Suddenly, your phone’s calling you
  • Notifications, infinite scroll on Facebook & Twitter, all actually designed to steal your time and create addictions.
  • If you think that’s just the kids, more fool you.

TV works in a similar way. Great for rest and relaxation (sabbathing), lovely for shared family time.

  • But less helpful when just channel-hopping or watching stuff that’s ungodly or demeaning.

Holidays are similarly great for rest and family time.

  • But they don’t have to cost the earth. I’ve known people locked in to jobs they hate simply to earn money for the big holidays. Which drives a need for an even bigger holiday, “because you’ve earned it.”

Work is God-given, supposed to be good. It provides dignity as well as putting food on the table. Many of us have developed good friendships and enjoyed fellowship/partnership at work.

  • But often there’s a self-gratification in busyness. You ask, “How you you?” and they say, “Oh, terribly busy” – and they revel in it, even to exhaustion.
  • Often, driven people will serve their job rather than have their job serve them. Do you work to live, or live to work?

And that’s as true for Christian work as for any other.

Confusing the means and the end

Now, if you’re a Christian, you know that God alone is to be the object of your worship. He’s the only one who lives and gives. These good things (technology, work, rest) should serve your worship (your service) of him.

  • They are means to an end; the end is worship of God.
  • If they prevent you from worshipping God, you are worshipping them instead.

You become what you worship. What do people think about you?

  • Kids playing sports and having band t-shirts are obvious.
  • But are you known primarily as good with technology, having amazing holidays, very busy, do a lot for the church?
  • Or are you known as someone who loves the Lord, is gracious, is a good witness, or a loving encourager?

Philippians 4:8 whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.

Make Jesus the object of your worship. He is the image of the invisible God. He is the communication of God’s love to you. Imitate God; become like him. Take hold of the eternal life to which you’ve been called.

One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. Take control of the idols you’ve let creep in and put them in the proper place: Means to the end of worshipping God.

Ask the Lord for help: He will provide grace, divine assistance.

Centre your life on Jesus

The rest of the psalm turns from the idols that can only fail you to think about the God who lives and gives, the one who shows you unfailing love and faithfulness. Read Psalm 115:9-11.

  • We see a suggestion, maybe, of how this might have been sung.
  • Three groups are mentioned – Israel, the priests (descendants of Aaron), and “all you who fear the LORD” (probably non-Israelite worshippers of God in the OT).

Are those pages on Facebook a good source of information about what’s going on in the world? Trust the LORD!

Is a holiday your only way of finding peace? Trust the LORD!

Is work the only place you find real friendship, purpose, dignity? Trust the LORD!

Because all those other things will only bring temporary pleasure but not lasting joy. For that, you need the God who lives and gives, the God of unfailing love and faithfulness.

And as you trust in him, blessing is actually promised. Read Psalm 115:12-13.

When the Bible speaks of God “remembering” it’s never because he’s forgotten you! He brings you to mind to act; and his action is to bless.

But there’s an idol we’ve not addressed that’s one of the most common: Your family.

The family as an idol

You want the best for your family, of course. But what is the best? Is there anything better for them than the blessing of God Almighty? Read Psalm 115:14-15.

See the flow of the psalm: Idols are ultimately worthless; trust in God; he will bless you.

  • Psalms 113-118 were sung by Jews at Passover time.
  • The Passover was instituted by God.
  • He gave instruction for a lamb to be slaughtered and for its blood to be put over the door of your house.
  • God’s judgment would not then come on that house because of the blood of the lamb. It would pass over.
  • God said they were to remember this, and when the children asked why the adults would explain about how God had saved them, how God was to be worshipped, how he could be trusted, how he would bless them.

You’re not serving your children or grandchildren by indulging them; the greatest good you can do for them is to teach them about God. You yourself must put God first in everything; show that he is worth your every effort.

God alone gives you what you seek from those idols: Peace, hope, security, joy, community.

Because remember the words were to the priests, the people, to everybody – the blessing comes to you in community with God’s people. You won’t be blessed if you keep away from church, looking for answers somewhere else.

Gather round the Lamb

Because, in the end, we gather around our Passover lamb.

God who lives and gives, who shows you unfailing love and faithfulness, stooped down to save you.

  • The God who dwells in the heavens entered creation and became human.
  • He died for you; took your punishment – death itself.
  • And rose from the dead! All the proof anyone could need.
  • And he calls you to trust him. Trust that his death has paid the price of your sin.
  • Trust him for peace, joy, contentment, fulfilment.
  • Even to trust him enough to give up on looking for those things in the things of this life, this world.

Our God is in heaven; the things in this world are here to enable you to worship him, not to be worshipped. Read Psalm 115:16-18.

In the Old Testament, there was very little understanding of life beyond the grave. So the call is clear: As long as you have breath in your lungs, sing praises to the LORD!

And, because we live this side of the cross, and because Jesus rose from the dead, you know there is life after death. Trust the LORD! Trust in Christ’s work for you!

Make him the centre of your life now and forever. Make him the object of your worship – every day.

You become like what you worship, so make sure that you ponder Jesus and seek to become more like him. And you will know blessing, both you and your children.