Should We Worship Jesus as the Beautiful One?

Joshua is interested in teaching his church the song, “Beautiful One,” by Tim Hughes. He wrote:

As I began to think about it, I couldn’t come up with a scripture verse that refers to Jesus as ‘beautiful.’ I did a word search in the NIV and the NASB for beautiful, but it seems to always refer to other things than God. Can beautiful be a substitute word for splendor or glorious or majestic? Is it better to use only Biblical words to describe Jesus?

In another part of his e-mail Joshua pointed out that other songs contain the word “beautiful,” like “O Lord You’re Beautiful” by Keith Green, “I Stand in Awe” by Mark Altrogge (You are beautiful beyond description), and “Beautiful Savior” by Stuart Townend. But Tim’s song uses the word “beautiful” three times in each chorus:

Beautiful One I love you
Beautiful One I adore
Beautiful One my soul must sing.

So Joshua is rightly asking, “Is this something that my church should be saying and repeating?” Here are some thoughts.

1. It’s always wise to use biblical words to describe God, or words that help us better understand biblical words. While we don’t hear God described as “beautiful” very often in Scripture, beauty is an attribute assigned to God, his holiness, and his dwelling place. (Ps. 27:4; Ps. 96:6; 1 Chron. 16:29; Ps. 50:2). Beauty has to do with that which is appealing, attractive, and delightful.

2. God is the essence of perfection and the most beautiful being in the universe. All beauty is defined by and has its source in God himself. Though for various reasons theologians have sometimes hesitated to describe God as “beautiful,” Wayne Grudem defines God’s beauty as “that attribute of God whereby he is the sum of all desirable qualities.” (Systematic Theology, p. 219). Beauty is sometimes used as a synonym for goodness, splendor, glory, or majesty,

3. If Moses was beautiful in God’s sight (Acts 7:20), we can be confident that Jesus is beautiful in the Father’s sight, and should be beautiful in ours as well.

4. In our culture, “beauty” usually refers to an external quality, not an internal one. But in this life, it’s impossible for us to say that Jesus is beautiful because of the way he looks externally. Beauty in Scripture isn’t devoid of an external reference, but it means much more. While we can and should appreciate God’s beauty revealed in creation, artwork, music, etc., what makes God most “beautiful” is his character, attributes, and works – his goodness, love, purity, compassion, etc., and the actions that flow from those attributes.

5. If I lead a song like “Beautiful One,” I want to make sure that people understand we’re singing about beauty as defined by God, not the world. Tim Hughes helps us by drawing attention to God’s beauty displayed in our redemption in verse 1 (unfailing love, your cross) and the beauty of creation in verse 2 (your mighty works). The bridge emphasizes that God himself opens our eyes to see how beautiful he is. All great emphases.

6. So, “Beautiful One,” rightly understood, helps us both express and appreciate the beauty of our Savior. Could it be clarified or developed? Sure, and a leader can do that through other songs or separate comments. I think verse 1 and verse 2 could have been reversed, because seeing God’s beauty in the cross is more significant than seeing his beauty in creation. But, hey, I didn’t write the song.

7. As with all songs we sing in the church, it’s good to think carefully about how they might be misunderstood, what they don’t say, and how they say it. But I think “Beautiful One” simply and concisely helps contribute to songs that help us focus on “the beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:4).

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6 Responses to Should We Worship Jesus as the Beautiful One?

  1. Matt July 20, 2007 at 3:41 PM #

    At first read of the title I thought that this was going to go more into the concept of singing songs that put the singer in a feminine position. This is something that I have struggled with for some time as a worship leader. The idea of singing “love songs” to Jesus, I know that the Bible describes us as “the Bride of Christ” but that doesn’t mean we only need to sing about how we “love Jesus” and he is “beautiful”, and that we are “in love” with him. In a way it puts both us and Jesus as women in the song. This feminine position, in my experience, makes a lot of men, especially new converts uncomfortable singing. They are already uncomfortable because most men, unless they are good at singing do not sing in public unless they have had a few drinks first. I would like to hear back from you about this concept.

  2. Bob Kauflin July 20, 2007 at 4:48 PM #

    Matt,

    Thanks for the question. I talked about your question on these two posts:

    http://worshipmatters.blogs.com/bobkauflin/2005/11/expressing_love.html

    http://worshipmatters.blogs.com/bobkauflin/2005/12/qa_friday_more_.html

    Let me know if those are helpful.

  3. Matt July 27, 2007 at 12:04 PM #

    I just checked out the posts. I agree with what they had to say. I guess I wasn’t looking for more information just validation that I wasn’t the only one wrestling with the femininity of so many “worship” songs.

  4. Peter R August 30, 2007 at 6:19 PM #

    August 30, 2007

    Similar to the discussion on calling Jesus “Beautiful”, the song by Chris Tomlin called “Famous One” poses for me similar questions. Should we call God “Famous” or the “Famous One”.

    Chris Tomlin’s reasons are largely to reclaim this word for God, and to use more accessible language for people who are not used to the language of faith, such as Redeemer, Ruler over all the earth, King of Kings etc.

    In what ways should our (liturgical) language (including song lyrics) be bound to scriptural language? And can liturgical language alter or contradict biblical language? And how do we inculturate biblical ideas into our tongue without making the gospel captive to our culture-bound categories?

    We live in a language: it constitutes the world we live in an as such shapes our identity in the world. In a sense most of our liturgical language is “God-talk”. And because God’s name is an unspeakable mystery (Ex.3 YHWH), all of our liturgical writing is at best makeshift: unstable words stammering in the face of mystery.

    Our liturgical language relates to Scripture on the one hand and a community of faith on the other. While liturgy is the language of people, it must express a confession of faith: thus the primary criterion for liturgical language is theology.

    The Reformed tradition has always opted for objective worship (e.g. Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.1–”What is the chief end of Man?” A. “To glorify God and joy Him forever”).
    Luther remarks in one of his writings that the Lord’s Prayer begins with hallowing of God’s name before it turns to our needs.
    In recent years, much liturgical writing seems to have plunged into the subjective affect: “We are here, Lord, with our guilts and hang-ups, aware of our….” Our age seems to have been co-opted by the triumph of the therapeutic, so that worship may well be viewed by some as a psychoanalytic, on-the-couch speaking, but we may well be suspicious of liturgical language overloaded with “we” and “our” and “us”. The object of our concern in public worship is God remembered and anticipated, not a wallow of affections.

    Though liturgy employs ordinary language, it does so in an extraordinary way, by speaking to God. A demonstration of a recent liturgical language change is the following:

    Leader: Good morning.
    PEOPLE: GOOD MORNING!

    This is clearly a use of ordinary language in an ordinary way (one might argue forgetting its extraordinary function). The use is a come-down from:

    Leader: The Lord be with you.
    PEOPLE: AND WITH YOU.

    The latter is an example of liturgy using ordinary language in an extraordinary way. In doing so, it stretches language, elevated language, and yes, it produces a certain “oddness”.

    Preaching itself forms part of our liturgy, and uses liturgical language. Gardner C. Taylor, one of the more influential black preachers of this generation, correctly argues the awesomess and presumptuousness of the task undertaken by the preacher (the one who supposes to speak for God):
    “Measured by almost any gauge, preaching is a presumptuous business. If the undertaking does not have some sanctions beyond human reckoning, then it is, indeed, rash and audacious for one person to dare to stand up before or among other people and declare that he or she brings from the Eternal God a message for those who listen which involves issues
    nothing less than those of life and death. (Gardner C. Taylor, How Shall They Preach [Elgin, Ill.: Progressive Baptist Publishing House, 1977], 24)

    John R. W. Stott, the Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and one of the foremost evangelists and lecturers of the day, attends to the same dimension of this reality by noting that the preacher can speak only because God has spoken:
    No attempt to understand Christianity can succeed which overlooks or denies the truth that the living God has taken the initiative to reveal himself savingly to fallen humanity; or that his self-revelation has been given by the most straight forward means of communication known to us, namely by a word and words; or that he calls upon those who have heard his Word
    to speak it to others. (John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1982], 15)

    Stott illustrates the implication of this insight with a somewhat humorous anecdote from the career of George Whitefield, the eloquent and spellbinding preacher of the eighteenth century. During a preaching campaign in a New Jersey meeting-house, an old man fell asleep during Whitefield’s discourse, provoking him to exhort:
    If I had come to speak to you in my own name, you might rest your elbows upon your knees and your heads on your hands, and go to sleep! … But I have come to you in the name of the Lord God of hosts, and (he clapped his hands and stamped his foot) I must and I will be heard. (Ibid, 32–33)(1)

    So if liturgical language is woven out of ordinary public language yet used in an extraordinary way, can we/should we call address God as being “famous”? Or to put it differently: does it communicate the Gospel faithfully. It seems to be more of a human attribute than a divine one. Looking through various bible translations, I could not find one single reference to God being “famous”. The NIV uses the word Famous 11 times, all in the old testament, and each time with reference to a human person (e.g. Esther, Salomon, David)

    To be fair, Eugene Peterson in “The Message” does use this word some 79 times (both of humans and of God). E.g. Psalm 143:1 reads in the Msge: “Listen to this prayer of mine, God; pay attention to what I’m asking. Answer me—you’re famous for your answers!”
    Or, Ps.79: 8 (Msge): ” Don’t blame us for the sins of our parents. Hurry up and help us; we’re at the end of our rope. You’re famous for helping; God, give us a break. Your reputation is on the line. Pull us out of this mess, forgive us our sins— do what you’re famous for doing!”
    Or in the New Testament, Luke 9:46 (Msge) ” They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. “Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,” he said. “And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.”

    God is so much more than “famous”: he is the Creation, the Alpha and Omega, with many, many divine attributes. I can’t find that “famous” is one of them.

    Chris Tomlin says the following about the song title (2):
    “I had no idea that “Famous One” would connect with people in such a powerful way. I knew it was singable, and I loved the idea of the word “fame” for God because I know our society understands that word when they don’t understand some of the other words we use for who God is. When you talk about fame, Jesus embodies the word. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. That’s fame beyond belief.”
    So it would appear the Chris Tomlin’s argument for choosing the word “famous” is to allow people to better understand God by using more “familiar” language.
    And indeed, when we call God Redeemer, Ruler over all the earth, King of Kings etc. not everyone will understand what those great words/titles mean. So the question becomes: do we need to speak to our current generation in a public worship service in a more accessible language, perhaps instead of our current language of faith, and by using a word like “famous” to let this generation know that God needs to be the star of the show, the famous one.

    In the WEBSTER dictionary the word Famous means a. widely known b: honoured for achievement It goes on to say that we word famous implies little more than the fact of being, sometimes briefly, widely and popularly known .
    Famous people or “celebrities” are looked at as “idols.” They are just ordinary people underneath a lot of makeup and exterior glitter. That is mostly because people want them to be “glamorous”. They’re famous because of their talent, some form of uniqueness, and publicity.

    Someone commented “I highly doubt that Chris Tomlin was saying that he’s “only” the famous one. He only touched on one aspect of our amazing creator. I don’t think that any song could ever fully encapsulate our God, but I don’t think Chris Tomlin was trying to do that, only trying to shed light on one simple aspect, the only way he knows how, the human way…” Do you agree with this statement (s)?

    #44 on CCLI Top 100 Chart
    (1) Taken in part from The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Volume 4, Music and the Arts in Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, Editor, chapter 22 “The Use of Language in Worship”, section 383-385. 1st ed. Nashville: Star Song Pub. Group, 1994
    (2)Cross Rhythms Magazine Issue 70

  5. Keith Morris August 30, 2009 at 9:07 AM #

    Is using the word “famous” extraordinary or not? (The post argued for using extraordinary language) Regardless of the Chris Tomlin quote, the song always tweaked an “extraordinary” note in me because expressing this is not something I would have naturally done. Growing up in a Christian family, I can’t remember hearing anything about God’s fame. Perhaps you know that the song started a movement of T-shirts, stating “I am not famous.” I’ve seen Chris and band members wearing them during musical worship. I thought it was a nice gesture for someone “famous” to wear a shirt stating the opposite, pointing attention (when people ask) to the one Who is. That seems pretty extraordinary to me. Chris doesn’t say that, but you can see it must be in his thinking, and as he wrote it a certain humility/exaltation must have come to mind. You could argue that the song is a uniquely personal expression, and not one that most of us need to make. Or is it?

  6. Lawrence Lorejo July 3, 2012 at 9:47 PM #

    Good day everyone!

    14 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tongue[a] does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,[b] but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is
    greater than the one who speaks in tongues,[c] unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

    The LORD wants us to bless His holy name. We praise him, and worship him. And sometimes, we sing the songs, we sing them well, but we have forgotten the lost!

    Yes, we sing to lift His name on high, worship him in many different ways. But let’s not forget about the GREAT COMMISSION.

    And arguing about the words?? It is not what matters. Look, we sing the song heart of worship. “I’ll bring You more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required. You search much deeper within, through the way things appear, You’re looking into my heart”

    Please do not be bothered about the words. “We may worship in different ways.” It is not just about the songs, but it’s all about our heart as we sing it. And using non-liturgical words, it is GOD’s desire not just to reach out to our hearts, but also to the hearts of those who haven’t heard any about him.

    To GOD be the Glory!!

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