Monday, January 30, 2017

Examining the Worship Song "Above All"

Above All is a popular praise and worship song made most famous by Michael W. Smith, released on his album Worship (which came out on September 11, 2001). Smith first came across the song, written by Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, when he was going through material to sing at George W. Bush's inaugural prayer service.

Smith said President Bush was so receptive of the song, he asked Smith to play it every time he saw him. Said Baloche, "I'm humbled and blown away that a simple prayer of worship, started at my little piano, found its way to the President of the United States. The possibility that this song could be an encouragement to him is such an honor."

CCM Magazine later included Above All in their list of the 100 Greatest Songs in Christian Music. Lenny LeBlanc talked with CCM about why he thought the song had been so meaningful to many Christians: "I think because it's such a beautiful picture of how a God that is above everything would become like a rose trampled on the ground, take the fall and think of us... above all."

While that sounds lovely, it's not true. Biblically, the song is false.

I remember being taken with the song and falling in love with it. But it was sometime around 2006 or 07, when I was coming out of a spell of listening to false teachers, that I began to realize just how off the song really was. It starts out wonderful but meets its demise at the end of the chorus. The first verse goes:
Above all powers
Above all kings
Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man
You were here before the world began
 
Above all kingdoms
Above all thrones
Above all wonders the world has ever known
Above all wealth and treasures of the earth
There's no way to measure what you're worth
So far, so good. The Bible says that Jesus is preeminent (Colossians 1:18), meaning that He is truly above all. Above Him there is nothing to gain. Nothing is higher. Surely you've been taught that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

Who knows the mind of God? Who can be His counselor? Who can give Him anything that He must repay? "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:34-36). And if the song ended there, we'd be pretty good. But then we get to the chorus:
Crucified
Laid behind the stone
You lived to die
Rejected and alone 
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all
And suddenly the song has just contradicted itself. If Christ is above all things, and yet He thinks of us above all things, then He cannot be above all things. He has elevated something higher than Himself, and that's us. You might say, "But wasn't that His ultimate motivation when He died for us? Because He loved us?" Actually, no.

Now, don't get me wrong. God does indeed love us. Ephesians 3:18-19 says that it is a limitless love that surpasses knowledge. Romans 5:8 says, "But God shows His love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us." His love for His children is demonstrated in the cross of Christ. But don't confuse His love for us with being His ultimate purpose.

Philippians 2:9-11 says that "God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Christ's ultimate purpose in His incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension was the glory of God.

Jesus is the ultimate example of what it means to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, which you might remember as being the summation of all the law and the prophets. Jesus saves us from our sin, death, and the wrath of God not because He thinks of us as being more important than His own glory, but rather for His glory.


Psalm 23, that hugely popular Psalm that says such pleasing and comforting things like "The Lord is my shepherd," and "He makes me lie down in green pastures," and "He leads me beside still waters," and "He restores my soul," says in verse 3, "He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." This is a constant theme throughout the Psalms:
  • Psalm 25:11, "For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great."
  • Psalm 31:3, "For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me."
  • Psalm 79:9, "Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name's sake!"
  • Psalm 106:8, "Yet He saved them for His name's sake, that He might make known His mighty power."
  • Psalm 109:21, "But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!"
  • Psalm 115:1, "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!"
  • Psalm 138:2, "I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word."
  • Psalm 143:11, "For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!"
Notice that God has exalted above all things His name and His word, not us. The skeptic will say, "What an egotistical, self-centered God!" But exactly whose glory should God be for? If He is for ours, He would cease to be God. The reason why we, as sinful human beings, have a problem with God being for God is because we want to take God off His throne and seat ourselves there.

But even while we were enemies of God, we have been reconciled to God by the death of His Son (Romans 5:10). Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14). Our salvation in Jesus Christ is to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6). We read in 1 John 2:12, "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His name's sake."

There are two reasons I believe Above All has been so popular: 1) Because there are some people who like the idea of God exalting us above Himself; or 2) Because those who love the song think it sounds pretty and are not actually considering what they're singing, or maybe even what the Bible says.

Let us be mindful that in our worship we are giving praise and honor and glory to the right person. God alone is worthy of our worship... above all.