Speaking ‘Amen’ to the Glory of God

If you have prayed a Christian prayer, you have used the expression, “. . . in Jesus’ name, Amen.” Many use it multiple times a day, hundreds of times in a year. Are the words just a convenient formality? Why do we say “Amen”? When should we? Look at 2 Corinthians 1:18-22 and Genesis 15 for answers.

“Amen” is a Hebrew word that expresses confidence, assurance, that God will do as he has said. It was used by the people of Israel, carried over into the New Testament church, and we still use it today. Nehemiah 8 records Ezra reading the Book of the Law of Moses to the returned exiles. Their response of praise in v. 6 is, “Amen and Amen.” The first four books of the Psalter conclude with an “Amen” or a double “Amen,” Psalm 42:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48.

In 2 Corinthians 1:20 Paul speaks of the congregation saying, “Amen.” The context is Paul’s refutation of accusations that he made plans hastily and broke promises lightly about coming to visit the church in Corinth. Paul then, in our text, calls on God’s faithfulness as the pattern for his sincerity in planning to visit the church. The gospel of Jesus Christ preached by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, was not “Yes and No,” full of ambivalence. Rather, it has always been “Yes”!

All God’s promises are “Yes” in Christ. Paul goes on in this letter to speak of a number of things, including forgiveness, service in the new covenant, the glory of God revealed in salvation, and the certainty of the heavenly temple. All of these grew out of Old Testament promises, focus on Christ, and are fulfilled in him. In him, Paul adds, we say “Amen” to the glory of God. Your “Amen” confirms your trust in the faithfulness of God.

To unpack what that “Amen” means, go back to Genesis 15:6. Abraham, not seeing the fulfillment of God’s wonderful promises, expresses his doubts to God. The Lord takes him outside and shows him the stars. Those numbers are what God is about in this covenant arrangement. Then you have that wonderful expression, “Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Paul appeals to that passage as he describes the riches of God’s grace, the righteousness received by faith, in both Romans and Galatians. Was this just a silent conviction of Abraham’s heart and an equally invisible justifying declaration by God? Possibly, but more likely, as Meredith Kline suggests, the verb “believed” here, which is a form of the word used adverbially as “Amen,” indicates something spoken. (Usage in Isaiah 43:9 and Judges 11:20 seems to support this.) You might even say that Abraham said “Amen” to God. The use of “Amen” in the context of covenant curses and promises is seen in Deuteronomy 27.

Clearly the faithfulness of God comes though in his gracious vision that follows in Genesis 15. In a ceremony that seems strange to us today, but was used in the ancient Middle East, animals were butchered and cut in two. Passing between them was a solemn way of taking an oath (may what happened to these animals happen to me if I break my oath). What is startling here is that it is not Abraham that passes between the animals, but the Lord, symbolized by a smoking firepot with a blazing torch. That’s how faithful God is to his promises!

What Abraham could picture as something seen dimly on the horizon, you understand. You know that God’s grace has come to you because the God-man, the Word made flesh, has passed through the curse of judgment for you, not just symbolically, but he truly died and rose again. Remembering the way between the butchered animals in Genesis 15 gives substance to what we will hear Jesus saying as we continue our studies in John, where he claims to be the Way.

Perhaps the peak of the connection between God’s faithfulness and “Amen” is found in Revelation 3:14, where, writing to an ambivalent, lukewarm church, Jesus identifies himself as “the Amen.” The triune God is the ground of assurance in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.

So, if God is the ultimate Amen, how should his church use the word? It is an appropriate corporate response to God’s Word, Nehemiah 5:13; 8:6, and to praising him, 1 Chronicles 16:36. It was used in the New Testament church, not only as Paul wrote his letters, but as a response in worship, I Cor. 14:16.

Can saying “Amen” aloud degenerate into a mindless formality? Of course, but don’t let that stop you from using it worshipfully. Sometimes it may be used in a very individualistic way simply to indicate agreement (similar to clicking “Like” on Facebook), but don’t let its abuse stop you from using it and meaning what you say. Let me encourage you not to be afraid to use it appropriately during our worship services.

As with Abraham, saying “Amen” is a verbal commitment tied to a life of trust and obedience. Notice that in 2 Corinthians 1, the congregation speaks “Amen.” However, that is closely connected to being anointed by God, sealed with the Spirit, and guaranteeing a salvation that is both present and future. Your Amen is an expression of trust in Christ, the Anointed one, union with him, and fellowship with the Triune God.

Philip Hughes in his commentary on 2 Corinthians catches the force of what Paul is teaching you: “The ancient prayer ending, ‘… through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ is something far more than a mere formula or a convenient formality; on the contrary, it is the true and profoundly significant keystone of all Christian prayer. It is not only primitive, it is pristine…. The Hebrew root from which it [Amen] is derived conveys the idea of firmness and reliability, and the utterance of “Amen” in public or private worship after prayers and thanksgiving expresses confidence in the faithfulness of God and the certainty of His promises. It is, in short, the voice of faith, setting to its seal that God is true (Jn. 3:33).”

When you say, “Amen,” you are echoing the cry of the living creatures before God’s throne, Rev. 5:14; 7:12! Don’t just say, “Amen.” Believe it. Live it!

[In preparation for a message on November 11, 2012]

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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