Psalm 48 is a wonderful exultation in God and ought to serve as a kind of master anthem for the community of faith. The city mentioned is a foreshadow of the church, the body of Christ made up of all sinner-saints, and just as in these precious lyrics, the hallowed renown of God is to begin and rise up from the worship gathering of our sacred assembly and spread out in our daily missional presence in the world. The influence of the church upon the world is first and foremost to be about the worship and magnification of God, the heralding with passion of his glory and splendor, and the proclamation that he reigns and rules forevermore in Christ.
So what does Psalm 48 tells us the church should do and be like? More than a few things:
1. The church should bring joy to the world (vv.1-2). As salt and light, graced people bring hope to a disgraced world.
2. The church's message is that God is a fortress, a refuge in times of trouble (v.3). The only hope for people who have rebelled against God is God himself—specifically in the freely offered righteousness of Christ our rock and redeemer.
3. The church makes it clear that Jesus is Lord over and above all lords, and she leads with the radical call to a revolutionary kingdom that challenges and usurps worldly authorities and systems (vv.4-5). We subvert worldliness and rebel against rebellion by following our gracious Savior as the king whose subjects are truly, finally, eternally free!
4. The church is forthright about God's holiness and righteousness, which provokes repentance and the fear of the Lord (vv.4-8). Contrary to the opinions of some, the commands of the Lord are not burdensome to those who have been set free from the condemnation they announce for those who do not know God. So we preach the bad news as if it is truly, terribly bad, in order that the holiness given to us through the good news would be seen as truly, terrifically good.
5. The church is known for the love of God. They meditate on God's love, even (v.9). Because if we do not love, we do not know God. But because we do know God, we love not just him, but our neighbor as ourselves. If the church does not exhibit God as love, they show they do not know God, and thus aren’t even the true church. Because God doesn’t just have love; he is love.
6. The church's zeal for the glory of God, for the proclamation of His fame, for the spread of His praise spills outside the city walls and flows to the end of the earth. The church does not exist for her own ends, for her own maintenance, but for the glory of God and the good of the world. The church, to put it simply, is on mission (vv.10-14). And this mission is primarily to announce the greatness and lovingkindness of God demonstrated most abundantly in the gospel of Jesus Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. In an age of increasingly consumeristic religion, there is no great “mission statement” than this.
7. The church cultivates a legacy of God's faithfulness (v.14). In other words, we serve a God who weds himself to us not because we are faithful, but because he is. He will never leave us or forsake us. Imagine if the church treated others with the preemptive, unilateral, unconditional grace God has shown us? Wouldn’t that speak to the faithfulness of God much more than our religious busywork or legalistic leveraging? We worship a God who never gives up on us. He is faithful. Let the church believe it.
Psalm 48 as a portrait of a gospel-centered church is an incredible song for reflection. Clearly we're not there yet. But God is faithful, and despite what anyone thinks of the church, Jesus has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. When I think of that, when I think of God's faithfulness to us, when I think of Jesus' love for his bride, and when I take those thoughts and run them through great anthems like Psalm 48, I cannot help but think of how the church can and will be (and, dangit!, often is) radiant with the glory of God.