Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
Think about what “self” does to some wonderful concepts:
- Righteousness (“To cause someone to be in a proper or right relation with someone else,” Louw-Nida 451). Jesus despised self-righteousness, “And He also told (a) parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). We should be eager for God to declare us righteous, but slow to do so for ourselves.
- Service (“functioning in the interest of a larger public, rendering of specific assistance,” BDAG 230). Jesus proved that service centers around ministering to and helping others (John 13:12-17). Notice the tack which reveals one to be spiritually mature. “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1).
- Interest. While the word isn’t found in the New Testament, the idea is there and so translators include it in passages like Mark 8:33, 1 Corinthians 7:34, and Phllippians 2:4,21. Each of these passages urge us to focus on others rather than self. Meanwhile, Scripture warns against selfish ambition (Rom. 2:8; Phil. 1:17; 2:3; Jas. 3:14,16).
- Love. There’s a specific word for love in the New Testament that we’re encouraged to demonstrate, toward God (Mat. 10:37; 1 Cor. 16:22) and fellow Christians (Ti. 3:15). But, Paul warns about how dire the world becomes when men become lovers of self (2 Tim. 3:2).
- Justification (“to take up a legal cause; to render a favorable verdict,” BDAG 249). Scripture often uses this word to speak of God doing this for us through Christ (Luke 18:14; Ac. 13:39; Rom. 2:13). But, it is an ugly thing when we manipulate and distort facts and truth to justify self (Luke 10:29; 16:15).
- Will. We are all equipped with a free will, with which we should serve the will of God (John 7:17). Yet, Scripture exposes as wicked those who are “self-willed” (2 Pet. 2:10). Paul warns against appointing a man an elder who is “self-willed” (Ti. 1:7). Such is arrogance. It comes from one who thinks he or she is better than anyone else, looking down on others (Louw-Nida 763).
But for all of these ways “self” can get in the way of God’s plans and desires, self is not always a qualifier of destructive behavior. Notice what else Scripture says. There is “self”:
- Denial. It is indispensable to spiritual discipleship (Luke 9:23).
- Sacrifice. It is integral to spiritual transformation (Rom. 12:1).
- Discipline. It is imperative to spiritual survival and eternal reward (1 Cor. 9:27).
- Control. It is included in spiritual fruit-bearing (Gal. 5:23).
Further investigation into God’s Word would no doubt reveal more examples like these, but here is the point. Our old self is to be crucified with Him (Rom. 6:6). It is to be laid aside (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:9). When this truly occurs within us, we will not place self above God and others. We will devote ourselves to the kind of lives that reach the lost, strengthen the saved, glorify God, and ultimate save ourselves (Acts 2:40).
People who have rejected the teaching that singing in worship must be without the addition of mechanical instrumental music have appealed to culture, to the permission of silence, to aesthetics, to emotion, to tradition, to preference, and the like. As we examine Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, seeing the imperatives in each place (“let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”—Col. 3:16; “be filled with the Spirit”—Eph. 5:18) and the participles that reveal how to obey the imperatives (Eph.: “speaking…singing…making melody…giving thanks”; Col.: “teaching…admonishing…singing”), we rightly say that God specifies what He wants and through such excludes what does not fall within these categories. No one will successfully build a case for Divine authorization or approval, and church history will have turned centuries of pages before it is even found introduced in Christian worship.
Having said that, we have at times failed to step back and look at some of our own attitudes toward the music portion of our worship that may reveal some deficiency in our musical offering to God. As a musical instrument may drown out, overshadow, or become the central feature of worship music, so may our own minds and attitudes. How?
- Being distracted by the age of the song (it’s too old or too new)
- Being distracted by the pitch of the song (it’s too high or too low)
- Being distracted by the pace of the song (it’s too fast or too slow)
- Being distracted by the notes of the song (the song leader is leading it wrong)
- Being distracted by who the song leader is or his appearance
- Being distracted by how many verses are sung (too many or too few)
- Being distracted by the aesthetics of the song (thinking about how it sounds more than what it says)
- Being distracted by our own ability (proud of how good we sound or so embarrassed at how we think we sound that we keep quiet or fail to speak, teach, etc.)
- Being distracted by the person/people next to us (concerned about what they think of us rather than what the message of the song is)
- Being distracted by our familiarity with a song (frustrated that we don’t know it or knowing it so well that we sing from memory without engaging the heart)
- Being distracted by matters outside the song (people-watching, thinking of other things, etc.)
Though I’ve never heard it said, have we constructed a theology that believes the only sin in our worship in song is adding an instrument to it? If we refuse to sing, sing with improper attitude, sing without heart and mind engaged, and the like, do we believe we are OK since we did not add to what God authorized.
In Matthew 15:9, Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes for worshipping God in vain due to their “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Context reveals the specifics of their wrongdoing. But that word vain means “pertaining to being without any result; to no avail” (Louw-Nida; “to no end,” BDAG). Review the examples of distraction above. Can those render worship in song with no result, avail, or end? Absolutely! Perhaps we need to emphasize within our own assemblies how equally necessary it is to be worshipping God “in spirit” as it is “in truth” (cf. John 4:24). The bottom line of this whole matter of church music is striving to please God in our worship. That is not limited to a single issue or somebody else’s issue. It is as individual and personal as each of our own relationship with God.
- A child scolded by an austere stranger may get frightened or bullied, but not persuaded or “reached.” A parent, grandparent, a sibling, or good friend will be much more effective.
- A church member reprimanded by an aloof elder with none of the skill and instincts of a shepherd will get offended, hurt, and angered, but will likely ignore the admonition. A caring, involved elder, even if what he says is difficult and narrow, will prove much more effective. Jesus makes this clear in John 10:5.
- A preacher who isolates himself from the members, though golden-tongued and 100% right, will cause rankling and roiling rather than remorse and repentance when dealing with sensitive, “hard” subjects. Yet, a man people know cares about them will be given a hearing on even “hot button” matters delivered in loving conviction. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 makes this clear.
- A brother or sister bringing a criticism or dispensing blunt advice, who has done nothing to establish rapport and relationship with the object of their censure, will have zero impact for good and most likely widen the distance already existent between them. Galatians 6:1-2 implies one who has worn the yoke with the one approached about the trespass.
- A “Facebook friend” or social media connection, who does a drive-by, verbal “shooting,” devoid of real life connection and bond, is seen as an obnoxious oaf at best and more likely as an impertinent intruder. That forum is not typically going to work for effective exhortation, especially if the dressing-down comes from one who has established no meaningful link. Remember, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). That’s a real friend; not a virtual one.
- A neighbor who has taken no time to be a friend or neighborly delivers hollow requests, suggestions, or demands. Without benefit of time and shared experience, this is received as bad manners and bad form. One who takes the time to demonstrate care will be much better heard (cf. Prov. 11:12).
- A co-worker or schoolmate will be unpersuaded by someone who makes no time for them or takes no time to get to know them but who gets in their business is wasting their time. But, one who proves genuine concern will much more likely get a thoughtful hearing.
It’s just the way we are. We bristle at cold, heartless interference from the seemingly disinterested party. But we are open and receptive to people who take the time to get to know, understand, and care about us. The same thing said the same way will make a big difference, depending on the presence or absence of a relationship. We would do well to strive to build more and better relationships, especially if we desire to help people grow closer to Christ and go to heaven. May we first work on the connection before we attempt the correction.