Confession time. When I first heard “Yes and Amen,” I rolled my eyes...like I was 14 again. It was overly catchy, the hook didn’t seem to make sense, and I wondered if it propagated a genie-view of God whose promises are always “Yes and Amen.” I was so ticked in fact that after the service, I sat in the car and looked up the song. And, wouldn’t you know it, the “yes and amen” phrase over which I was so upset, comes right from Paul.
I repented then and there. “I’m sorry contemporary Christian music world, I shamed you for being cheesy and shallow, and actually...I was critiquing the Word of God!” *Exhibit A of the pharisaical heart I battle daily.*
Regardless, the frustration I had with the song coupled with the realization that the lyrics were, in fact, in the Bible, led me to an in depth study of Paul’s words--that now, thanks to Chris Tomlin *cough cough, Housefires*, churches all over the country are singing every week.
So, there I went to the Seminary library to get my hands on a couple 2nd Corinthians commentaries--because this verse needed more attention then blueletterbible.com and yes, even my trusty ESV Study Bible could provide.
Sidebar...You should know I have a track record of being weird about pithy phrases and the songs that come out of them. “Mighty to Save” is like that...I remember it being 2008, singing it, loving it, but simultaneously hating that the phrase “mighty to save” didn’t seem to make sense. Because it wasn’t something I’d say in a regular conversation, I didn’t understand why I’d sing it, let alone have it inspire a crazy emotional worship experience. Still, I love Mighty to Save. That chorus. And Zephaniah 3:17… Just. Yes. I fight the same skepticism with the pithy, “I Am Who You Say I Am” and this song, “Yes and Amen.” I understand we’re supposed to file it under songwriting, much of it comes straight from Scripture, the artists have poetic license, and that I’m overly critical and think way too much about wording and grammar and blah blah blah….
Back to Paul.
So, to the commentaries I went. And just like that, the kitchen table renounced its former purpose of eating and became a catch all for my books, notes, laptop, and washi tape. Because. Yes. Washi tape makes everything better.
Here’s what I learned.
The infamous “Yes and Amen” phrase we sing in Chris Tomlin’s song finds its home in a letter Paul wrote to believers in Corinth. He wrote it from Macedonia on his third missionary journey around 58-59 AD, about a year after writing the letter we know as 1st Corinthians. His purpose in writing this letter (2nd Corinthians and particularly chapter 1) was essentially to defend himself and his ministry to the church and against false teachers in Corinth.
These false teachers were propagating a sort of prosperity gospel and questioning the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolic authority (a fancy term for being called and sent by Jesus to do his work). One piece of ammo the false teachers used against Paul was that he changed his plans about when he would visit Corinth.
As trips evolve, so did Paul’s journey. He encountered extreme trials, resistance, and suffering while he navigated (as a leader does) what would best suit the churches and the people to whom he ministered. When he decided to change his plans, he saw a growing minority in the Corinthian church begin to question his leadership. He regrouped, considered all of his options, and decided to change his plans about visiting Corinth a second time. And it’s at this point that we’re caught up in 2nd Corinthians.
I know. It sounds dumb. Who cares if Paul changed his travel plans? And to be honest, it’s incredibly confusing, so I spared you the roundabout details and the timeline of the whole missionary journey--since the conflict itself is what’s crucial for understanding the context of our “yes and amen” verse.
The false teachers used Paul’s change of plans to suggest the Spirit was not at work in Paul’s ministry. Why? Because he failed to carry through with his original word. You can hear them spreading rumors amongst the Corinthians now…
How could he be living and working by the Spirit if he can’t follow through with his plans? The Spirit can’t possibly be in the great Paul when he says one thing and does another! This guy is no apostle. He would come visit you if he really cared about you.
And this is why in 2nd Corinthians 1, Paul has to defend himself.
First, Paul appeals to his own conduct (of integrity and godly sincerity) to affirm his genuine pastoral-heart behind the decision to alter his travel plans (vv. 15-17). In verse 12, we see Paul gracefully, but forcefully, reminding his audience that his actions were NOT made by “relying on worldly wisdom,” but rather, as a response to God’s grace in his life. He thereby proves his word is trustworthy, though his plans may change.
Second, Paul appeals to God’s own character by saying, “As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’,” (v.18). In the New International Biblical Commentary series, John M. Scott writes, “Paul bases the trustworthiness of his own statements on the trustworthiness of God, and there can be no doubt from the Old Testament that God is faithful.”
Third, Paul appeals to his message--the who and what he preaches--Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who himself never changes. His message (and that of his companions, Silas and Timothy) has always been consistent.
“God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus was preached by Paul without any wavering or inconsistency, so that the consistency of his message ensured the consistent character of his motives and actions. As the Corinthians themselves could verify, there was no “yes” and “no” about the Son whom Paul and his colleagues preached. His consistency in the greater matters ensured his reliability in the comparatively lesser matters.” (Linda L. Belleville, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, ‘96)
And finally, we arrive at the “yes and amen” verse, 2nd Corinthians 1:20, where Paul basically brings together his whole defense.
“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
God’s promises are unwaveringly true and have never been inconsistent--because all of them have been fulfilled in Jesus. Christ is the resounding YES to each and every one of God’s promises. And it is through Christ Jesus himself (the very message Paul preaches and first brought to the Corinthians) that the people of Corinth are able to participate in those promises.
When Paul says, “through him the amen is spoken by us,” the “amen” is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that, much like we use the word today (albeit, without knowing), agrees with or confirms what has just been said. Jews regularly said “amen” as a response to prayers or statements with which they agreed. Much like we would engage in conversation by adding a “yep” or a “preach.”
So when Paul says “amen,” he confirms the demonstration of God’s faithfulness in Christ toward his people. By saying “Amen,” Paul and the Corinthians affirm God’s own commitment to the YES of Christ Jesus. For it is in and through Christ Jesus that God keeps all of his promises.
And, just so the Corinthians don’t forget, Paul reminds them that all of it, (the keeping of promises, Christ Jesus, their participation in the promises, etc...), is for the glory of God. He continues in verses 21-22 (especially meaningful verses that don’t get as much credit as v. 20) and affirms God’s power in and over our lives and all that he has done for us.
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (1:21-22)
Scott Hafemann summarizes Paul’s whole defense of his travel plans and his work pastoring the Corinthians when he writes, “Paul’s concern was not whether this or that itinerary corresponded to some hidden ‘will of God’ that he must set out to discover, but whether his itinerary would reflect the character and purposes of God in Christ.”
Paul justifies his actions by the guiding principle of his life: God’s faithfulness throughout history in and through Christ Jesus.
His words in 2 Corinthians challenge the church in Corinth to align their own hearts with the heart of the faithful God and remember God’s faithfulness in the person and work of Jesus.
It’s a challenge that extends to the church today.
And there you have it, the context in which our “yes and amen” verse (2 Corinthians 1:20) lies.
Is it different than what you would have guessed?
It was for me.
And that’s precisely what, I think, we have to weigh when we consider introducing or singing this song in our congregations.
Why your church should (or maybe shouldn’t) sing it:
Something the lyrics of “Yes and Amen” and 2nd Corinthians 1 both have at their core is the focus on God’s faithfulness. The song’s chorus basically just repeats “Faithful you are” and “all your promises are yes and amen.” And although Paul’s outerlying purpose is to defend his character and ministry, he uses the opportunity to pastor the Corinthians and remind them just how faithful God is.
Though the people in our churches aren’t likely doubting Paul’s authority, they do suffer from short term memory and (like the Corinthians) need help remembering God’s faithfulness in history and in their own lives.
This is why Paul reminding the Corinthian church that Jesus is the Yes to all of God’s promises is such an epic moment--both then and now.
Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end of redemptive history itself. “No matter how many promises…” Jesus is the answer. Everything finds its fulfillment and significance in Christ himself.
That reality is worth underscoring with our voices both through our “Amens” and congregational singing.
Other things I like about “Yes and Amen”:
It is really pithy and annoyingly catchy.
It is “positive and encouraging.” 😂
It affirms God’s faithfulness (much like the verse’s context).
The song verses elude to past challenges and prompt the singer to recall God’s acts of faithfulness in his/her own life.
It’s upbeat and energetic, and since fast-tempo worship songs are already hard to come by, this is truly notable.
I like the simple declaration of the bridge: “I will rest in your promises. My confidence is your faithfulness.” It is a straight forward, but necessary proclamation over our lives in all seasons.
It’s easy to play and straightforward to sing.
Chris Tomlin describes it like this, “It’s a simple song. The first time you hear the chorus you’re already in it. It’s such a beautiful, singable, and accessible to anybody kind of melody.”
The lyrics are easy, but meaningful.
Chris McCLarney talked about the power of its simplicity when he says “Something about singing it over and over is like a mental reminder where you start to believe the words that you’re saying. The more you sing it, the more you start to see it.”
Now, for what I don’t like about “Yes and Amen”:
I can get over repetitive, pithy, and seemingly hoaky one liners. But, for me, as Paul’s powerful statement is packaged in this song, it leaves especially high potential for the singer to take Scripture out of context and misapply Paul’s words to his/her life.
When the average church attendant sings, “All your promises are Yes and Amen,” they’re not thinking about how Jesus is the fulfillment of every.single.one of God’s promises.
It’s much more likely they’re applying God’s promise-keeping ability to their own struggles and speaking it over their situations, believing that God will be faithful through their trials because, after all, “all of his promises are Yes and Amen.”
Now--it’s important you hear this--I’m not saying that there isn’t benefit to this application, and I’m not saying that the application itself is untrue. I am, however, saying that it’s not the whole of what Paul was saying...if that makes sense.
And that’s why I think we have to be cautious.
Because we are IN CHRIST, God’s promises to us are always true. He is with us in the midst of our suffering, we do not need to fear, we have the peace of Christ, and yes, every other promise we stand on in the midst of pain is trustworthy. So, there really isn’t anything horribly wrong about the aforementioned interpretation and application of the song.
My fear, though, is the simplicity of the lyrics border on prosperity language and can project a genie view of God whose answer to all of life’s brokenness is just, “yes and amen.”
That interpretation misses the point and simply isn’t biblical.
Furthermore, the song lyrics miss the Christological emphasis of Paul’s entire passage. The fact that God’s promises are YES in Jesus, is completely missing from the song. For that reason, the phrase taken from 2nd Corinthians 1:20 seems out of context and simplified. If the lyrics were “All God’s promise are Yes in Jesus” I would feel soooo much better!
By singing, “Faithful you are, all God’s promises are Yes and Amen” in conjunction with the vague verses (that focus on experience), I fear we infer too much into our own present situations. The personal application that “my life is going to be okay,” which is kind of the by-product feeling of this song, is not the intent of the passage from which this phrase was taken. In Seminary, we would have called that bad exegesis.
The reason our lives are going to, ultimately, be okay is because of Jesus, who he is and what he has done, and what he’s coming back to do.
In the New Song Cafe video for this song, Chris Tomlin laughingly says, “As a worship leader, it’s beautiful when you’re teaching and singing songs, you’re singing straight Scripture and maybe people need to know it. Especially a lyric like “ All your promises are Yes and Amen” that comes across and something in you rises up, like, that is awesome. I’m not sure what that means, but that is awesome!”
I had to laugh too. Chris has my thoughts, but with a much more positive outlook. He’s right. It is awesome. But the, “I’m not sure what that means,” means if, as worship leaders, we are going to lead this song and encourage our church to participate in it, we have to do our homework. I’m okay with the mystery of our faith, and I’m okay with not having all the answers. But I’m not okay with applying Scripture irresponsibly (taking something out of context) or lazily singing tunes because they’re popular and catchy.
Sidenote: From the research I’ve done looking into this song and the stories of how it was written, I am confident the writers (Chris McClarney, Housefires, Nate Moore and even Chris Tomlin) do understand it’s in and through Jesus that God’s promises are “Yes” and we say Amen in response to God’s faithfulness. Paul’s key message, the person and work of Christ, is not lost in their description of this song and how it came to be. It’s just that I think that meaning is lost in the average person’s singing of this song.
If you’re going to lead “Yes and Amen,” please, please, please, put it in its context. It does has true potential for depth.
How often do you think about the reality that Jesus is the fulfillment of every one of God’s promises? How often do you pause and realize that every promise God made to Old Testament Israel came true through one singular person--and the gift of that person’s presence is available to you, your family, your neighbors, your church, and the entire world?
See what I mean…It’s an UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH we can affirm when we choose to sing, “Yes and Amen” in Jesus.
If we introduce this song responsibly, we can pastor our congregations like Paul did, to recognize God’s proven faithfulness throughout history in and through Christ. And as such, prove his sovereignty over our own lives and be encouraged by the past, in the present, and for the future.
Out of all of God’s attributes, this song clearly and obviously narrows in on God’s faithfulness. Repeating the word, “faithful,” three times in the chorus alone, the lyrics intentionally praise God for his unending faithfulness while simultaneously reaffirming the believer that God has been and will be faithful to do all that he said he would. While the context of the “Yes and Amen” phrase the lyrics borrow from Paul (2nd Corinthians 1:20) focuses on God’s faithfulness in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the song encourages the believer to relate God’s faithfulness to his or her own life.
In a world that makes and breaks promises like it’s no big deal, it can be easy to forget that every single one of God’s promises have been fulfilled in and through Jesus. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are YES in Jesus,” and we get to affirm them with our “Amen” and participation in the blessing of those promises. We can trust God when he promises us his presence, guidance, Spirit, eternal life, and every other blessing he extends to his followers in and through Jesus. Because his word is true and he never changes, we find our hope, rest, and confidence (the bridge!!!) in these promises and the faithfulness of God.
How to Introduce “Yes and Amen” to your church
At Churchfront, we are firm believers in planning out what you, as a worship leader, are going to say to your congregation whenever you have to say anything! Whether it’s a welcome, an announcement, a prayer, or a moment between songs, your words are pastoral opportunities. That’s why the time spent preparing what you will say is essential in your role as a worship pastor.
Introducing songs, for the first time or the thirtieth time, are perfect teaching opportunities. And remember, these are not mini messages or side sermons, rather, they are invitations to focus deeper on the biblical truths found in the words of the song. Whenever we do this, we are encouraging our congregations to dwell on a specific picture or think about a phrase in a new way. (If you’re looking to grow your skills in speaking to the congregation, check out our Worship Leader School--Speak Between Songs is one of many premium courses available to members.)
When introducing Yes and Amen to your congregation, consider drawing their attention to one (remember to keep it simple) of the following elements below.
What to include:
The context of 2 Corinthians 1
A brief list of God’s promises, fulfilled in Jesus
The privilege of being able to affirm (say AMEN!) God’s faithfulness in Jesus as the church throughout time and space. (We get to say Amen just as the Corinthians got to!)
Contrasting God’s promise-making and keeping with that of a broken world
Questions to answer:
How can all of God’s promises be “yes and amen”?
How does Jesus fulfill every one of God’s promises?
Why does it matter that God is faithful?
I don’t know about you, but I can be a bit of a cynic when I hear a promise. Whether it’s “the world’s best coffee,” or “grow your hair back in two weeks,” we’re used to seeing promises made, and we’re also used to seeing them broken. Friends or co-workers betray us. Mentors abandon us. Addictions take over. Marriages end. And if we’re not careful, we can begin to doubt if anyone means what they say. The same is true of God. When life’s going well, it’s easy to believe that God is with us, but when suffering comes along, we begin to believe that God’s promises don’t apply to us. But God’s track record isn’t like everyone else’s. God has proven himself faithful over and over again in your life, my life, and through the entirety of salvation history. Every single word God has ever spoken is true and every single one of his promises is fulfilled in and through Jesus. As such, we can believe him when he says he will be with us! We can believe him when he promises the holy Spirit and eternal life. God’s promises are true and worthy of our celebration. In this next song, we simply recognize that God is unlike anyone else and we praise him for his faithfulness in keeping his promises. Simultaneously, we can be encouraged that however we’ve come to the foot of the cross in this moment, God’s promises are as true today as they were yesterday and will be true tomorrow. Let’s stand on his promises and believe he is faithful as we sing this next song.
In 2nd Corinthians 1:20, Paul penned a line of astronomical depth, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ, and so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us for the glory of God.” But if we’re being honest, it’s one of those verses that feels like it means something deep, but it’s hard to be sure what or how. What does it really mean that all of God’s promises are Yes in Christ? That “yes” is an emphatic confirmation that God’s promises are made true in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment to every single one of God’s promises. His very life and the truth of his word prove God is the same unchanging and faithful God who revealed himself to Israel and is with us in this space today. The fact that Jesus is the “yes” to all of God’s promises means we can rest in that everything he says is true. We have the peace of Christ. We have eternal life through Jesus. We have the presence of the Spirit. And this reality stirs up such gratitude and awe that Paul, the Corinthian church, and Christians around the world today worship in response! We offer our “Amens” together in affirmation of the wonder of God’s faithfulness. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. And because we are in Christ, those promises extend to us. He is the Yes, and we get to sing Amen together in worship.
Are you singing this song at your church? What thoughts or opinions do you have about it? Let us know in the comments!
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