Psalm 98 continues the theme of divine kingship and is, therefore, in many respects quite similar to the psalms that surround it. Once again, the psalmist sings joyfully to God as king. Once again, he rejoices in the “marvellous things” that the king has done for his people (v. 1). Once again, he calls all the nations to join him in praising the Lord (vv. 4–6) and, in fact, intensifies it by calling creation to join the worship service (vv. 6–9).
But there is an interesting observation in the middle of the psalm. The psalmist writes, “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (vv. 3–4). Observe the connection here between steadfast love and faithfulness to Israel and the nations seeing the salvation of God. And notice that it is in God’s love to Israel (corporate) rather than to Israelites (individual) that the nations see God’s salvation. There is a simple principle here: The witness of God’s people is a community affair.
Far too often, we think of Christian witness (evangelism) in personal terms. While we should certainly be willing to share our faith in a personal capacity, God has designed the community of believers—the church—to be his instrument of gospel witness. Christian witness is strongest and most compelling when it is exercised in the context of a healthy local church. When Christians, in the context of the church, live out a faithful gospel witness, the unbelieving world sees the faithful love of God on display and is drawn to it.
This, of course, implies that the church and its members are outward focused. Israel failed in its mission precisely when it became too inward focused. When the people came to believe that they were God’s chosen people to the exclusion of the nations, they failed to be the light that God intended them to be. Likewise, when churches grow too inwardly focused, believing themselves to be superior to the outside world, and that the outside world must first conform to their Christian standards before God will accept them, passion for and commitment to witness fades.
The cross of Christ is, of course, an offence to unbelievers, but God’s people must avoid adding to that offence. I recently heard a woman speaking of how, as a rank unbeliever, with no Christian background whatsoever, she felt God stirring in her. She responded by attending a nearby church one Sunday morning. As she walked in, the first person who greeted her immediately commented on how inappropriately she was dressed for church.
Sadly, the woman never returned to that church. Happily, God’s grace continued pursuing her and she found another church where she heard the gospel clearly preached and she came to faith in Christ.
That is precisely the superiority complex Israel, and particularly Israel’s religious leaders, fell into. As we minister the gospel to people, we must remember that we cannot expect from non-Christians Christian behaviour and a Christian worldview. The church should be a place where preaching the gospel causes offence, not where its members cause unnecessary offence before the gospel is even preached!
Being a faithful gospel witness in the world can be uncomfortable. It might even invite Pharisaic criticism, as it did for Jesus. But we must remember that the church is unique in the world as the one people on whom God has showered his love and faithfulness, and we must deliberately strive to show an unbelieving world what it means to experience such love and favour. Only then will the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God.