"Above Every Name" is my newest worship song. The chorus first came to me on the morning of December 14th. Then, the majority of the song was written while Meg, Claire, and I were visiting Meg's family in Canada over Christmas. I was inspired to write this song by meditating on Philippians 2. Our pastor at First Baptist Church Farmersville, Bart Barber, challenged me several months ago to write some new hymns based on the book of Philippians. He is currently preaching through Philippians at our church and will also participate in the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Pastor's Conference, during which twelve different pastors will preach through the entire book.
The lyrics of "Above Every Name" have two main features. First, while they are written ABOUT Christ, they are sung TO Christ. In other words, the song is Christology sung TO Christ. A friend told me this was "intimate and profound." I hope so! Second, the lyrics tell the story of Christ's humiliation and exaltation.
ABOUT CHRIST/TO CHRIST
The lyrics are written ABOUT Christ, and are meant to teach. Classic Hymnody often teaches deep truths. We believers have often learned our theology through the hymns we sing. I didn't want this song to be shallow; I wanted it to have that same teaching power. So what Christology does this song teach?
The first pre-chorus says,
"Though You remained one with Your Father, You became human to be one with us. Because You descended, Jesus, You ended the enmity that kept Your presence from us."
The incarnation is a paradox in so many ways. Jesus, the Son, became a man on earth while God the Father remained in Heaven. Yet Jesus did not give up his divinity or his unity with the Father when he became a man. Jesus remained homoousios (of the same substance) as the Father. Just ask Athanasius, who taught this against the heretic Arius. Furthermore, Jesus came to be human so he could be like us and pay the sin-debt man owed to God. Hebrews 2:17 says, "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."
This song is also sung TO Christ. If the strength of hymnody is its teaching power, then its weakness is lack of first person language which connects the worshiper vertically to God. Now, there are a great many hymns written in the first person that encourage vertical worship. However, the imbalance of too many impersonal hymns is part of what has caused so many contemporary praise and worship songs today to be written in the first person. This is all an issue of balance. We need songs that contain deep doctrine about God and are vertically addressed to God. We need songs that teach us and songs that allow us to tell God how much we adore Him. I attempted to do both of these things in one song.
The second feature of the lyrics is that they go through the story of Christ's humiliation and exaltation, which is one of the key themes of the Philippians 2:5-11 hymn. The first verse speaks about Christ giving up his royalty and coming down to the earth. Christ descended to the earth, and just kept going down. If you think about it, he is the ultimate champion in the spiritual limbo contest ("How low can you go?”). He came to earth; he was a baby; his family was poor; he lived in a small town; before he died, he was arrested; he was mocked; he was stripped and beaten; he was killed in the most humiliating and painful way the Romans killed anybody.
He accepted this humiliation with complete obedience. Then, after three days in the grave, he rose again and began his ascension back to the top. The second pre-chorus says of Jesus' comeback:
"Though you were buried, the grave could not hold You, Three days later, You rose again. Then You ascended to Your throne in Heaven, Victorious Savior, Defeater of sin."
Now Jesus reigns above every name. Now we give him praise above every name. The act that the world thought was his demise is what gives rise to his glory and renown. Christ saved us when he came "Humbly to serve, humbly to die." That is why he is now lifted high!
Fun fact: My girls were a big help to me in writing this song. Claire sat on my lap and critiqued the song while I was working on it at the Yamaha piano in Nana and Papa's living room in Pugwash. Meg was the first person to listen to the song in its entirety, and she helped refine the lyrics at the end of Pre-Chorus 1. We changed them from "the enmity barring salvation from us" to "the enmity that kept salvation from us."