Worship Leader, Stop Tickling Ears!

Do a search for the phrase, “I love you,” in the Bible, and you will be shocked at how few times it occurs.
Do a search for the phrase, “I love you,” in a worship song database, and you will be shocked at the number of songs you find.
In addition, expand the song database search to songs about love, and–even more so–you will be blown away.

Allow me to demonstrate. The phrase, “I love you,” occurs in the Holman Christian Standard Bible eight times:

  • Judges 16:15 (HCSB)
    “How can you say, ‘I love you,’” she told him, “when your heart is not with me? This is the third time you have mocked me and not told me what makes your strength so great!
  • Psalm 18:1 (HCSB)
    I love You, LORD, my strength.
  • Isaiah 43:4 (HCSB)
    Because you are precious in My sight and honored, and I love you, I will give people in exchange for you and nations instead of your life.
  • John 21:15-17 (HCSB)
    When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Feed My lambs,” He told him. A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.” “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him. He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.” “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:15 (HCSB)
    I will most gladly spend and be spent for you. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
  • 3 John 1:1 (HCSB)
    The Elder: To my dear friend Gaius: I love you in the truth

Let’s break down the usages of this phrase Scripturally. In Judges, the context is Delilah–the seductress–trying to guilt trip Samson into telling her the source of his strength. In the psalm, David is praying to God. In Isaiah, God is speaking to the nation of Israel. In John’s gospel, Jesus is reinstating Peter by asking him if he loves Him; Peter’s answer three times is, “I love you.” In 2 Corinthians, Paul is explaining he loves the church in Corinth. In 3 John, John is telling his brother-in-Christ, Gaius, he loves him.

So, to further break down what this means, there is only one explicit verse in the Bible (Psalm 18:1) that has a human telling God he loves Him, though if we count Peter’s encounter with Christ that number jumps to four. But, with certainty, there is only one verse in the Bible with an unsolicited “I love You” coming from a human to God.

In addition, there is only one explicit verse in the Bible (Isaiah 43:4) that has God telling anyone He loves them. And, let’s keep in mind there are 31,103 verses in the Bible.

So, if there are 31,103 verses in the Bible, and if only 2 of them speak either of a human’s love for God or of God’s love for a group of people, then basic math (31,103 – 2 = 31,101) dictates there are 31,101 verses in the Bible that go largely untapped by modern worship music writers.

Now, allow me to be fair. God’s love is spoken of in more ways than simply “I love you,” so doing a search in the Bible for love yields a result of 575 uses in 526 verses. Now before you get your arguments ready, 44 of the verses that contain the word love are found in Song of Songs which is focused entirely on the romantic love between a husband and wife. And, even if i grant that the remaining 482 uses of the word love are used about God’s love toward people (which they are not), that still leaves 30,621 verses in the Bible with no reference to God’s love for people.

So why is it that just about any random church you step foot in on a Sunday morning plays worship music almost exclusively focused on this theme?

  • “Oh, how He loves us, Oh.” (How He Loves)
  • “You’re a Good, Good Father . . . it’s who you are and I’m loved by You.” (Good, Good Father)
  • “The overwhelming, never ending, reckless love of God.” (Reckless Love)

I’ll limit myself to these three examples. (This is not the blog post to discuss God as reckless, but if you want to read that post, leave a comment asking for it.) This is the most popular topic in our worship songs today, and it is unfortunate, because mathematically the word love only occurs in 1.5% of the verses in the Bible.

The word holy, on the other hand, occurs 639 times in 574 verses. Now sure, it makes it into only 1.8% of the verses in our Scriptures, but it only occurs in 343 songs today compared to the word love which occurs in 1,207 songs today.

The word love occurs in 0.3% fewer verses of Scripture (Song of Songs excluded) than the word holy, but it occurs in more than 250% more worship songs today. Why is this?

One more thought before answering that question. In Reformed circles today, many people who consider themselves “truly reformed” will attempt to argue that the only songs believers should sing in public worship are the Holy Spirit-inspired songs of the book of Psalms. I can understand this sentiment when i look at the theme of the majority of modern worship songs. However, what these theologians fail to notice is God’s people are commanded in four separate psalms to “sing a new song” to God (Psalm 33:3, 96:1, 98:1, 149:1). So, when it comes to modern worship song writers, i appreciate their desire to obey Scripture, but i ask again,

Why are all of their songs focused on love?

If we look at the Holy Spirit-inspired hymnbook, it will not take long to figure out why every modern worship song sounds the same. In the very first psalm we read in the concluding verse: “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin” (1:6).

Did you catch it? “The way of the wicked leads to ruin.”

No one wants to sing about damnation for sinners on a Sunday morning. It might cause the people to get uncomfortable, and to not come back, and to not bring their tithes the next Sunday.

Or, move on to Psalm 5:5-7. Here David writes, “The boastful cannot stand in Your presence; You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who tell lies; the LORD abhors a man of bloodshed and treachery.  But I enter Your house by the abundance of Your faithful love; I bow down toward Your holy temple in reverential awe of You.”

Yes, this is the first psalm in which we see God’s love appear, but look at what it’s contrasted with.

  • “You hate all evildoers.”
  • “You destroy those who tell lies.”
  • “The Lord abhors a man of bloodshed and treachery.”

This is straight out of Scripture. If our worship songs sounded like this, and actually touched on God’s hatred of sin, then our singing about God’s love for us would no longer sound like a girl singing about her boyfriend.

It’s no wonder men don’t find church appealing. (I’ll be posting on this topic again in the near future.)

However, if our worship songs talked about any attribute other than God’s (unfounded?) love for us, not only would our churches grow empty, but the writers of the songs would likely lose a ton of money as well.

I’ll come right out and say it. We give teachers like Joel Osteen a hard time for not understanding and teaching the Bible, but i think modern worship song writers are just as guilty–if not worse–for pandering to peoples’ felt needs and doing what Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 4:3.

“For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.”

The last phrase can also be translated, “because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear.”

The truth of the matter is God cannot be defined simply by either holiness or love. There are approximately 30,047 other verses waiting to be mined for material to sing in praise to God. There are hard truths and there are easy truths, but they all describe our God, and He deserves the praise for who He is–not for who we want Him to be.

Let’s praise Him the way He deserves to be praised!

Soli Deo Gloria
Pro Ecclesia

When i first mentioned to a friend i would be writing this post, he asked me to recommend some solid worship songs he could listen to. Here’s my top 12:

  1. There is a Fountain
  2. Jesus Paid it All
  3. Be Thou My Vision
  4. Rock of Ages
  5. Amazing Grace
  6. It is Well With My Soul
  7. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  8. A Mighty Fortress
  9. Hallelujah, What a Savior!
  10. Nothing But the Blood
  11. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  12. Joy to the World
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