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Yearly Archives: 2006
Intro – The following exhibit relates more to the question of the segregation of blacks and whites in the church than with interracial marriages (although I still have more biblical material to examine on that issue). This may be the most significant exhibit, however, since it is the only exhibit in which the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is examined in light of our topic.
Jesus’ Ministry in Light of Jewish Prejudice Against Samaritans – There existed in biblical times a similar prejudice among the Jewish people that existed in America at the height of the racial tensions pre-civil rights movement. The Jews were prejudice against the Samaritans, and the Samaritans were segregated from the Jews. The Samaritans were called “half-breed’s” by the Jews because they were the Jews who were left behind during the exile and intermarried with Gentiles. Jews simply despised and would have nothing to do with Samaritans. When the Jews said to Jesus, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” the latter seemed to follow from the former (Jn 8:48). That is, the Jews thought of Samaritans as evil, so merely identifying someone as a Samaritan was understood as an extreme insult among the Jews. This is why the woman at the well thought it was a shocking thing that Jesus even spoke to her, saying, “‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (Jn 4:9). The segregation was so strong, not even their faith in the One True God could unify them. The Samaritans had their own mount of worship called Mount Gerizim which was separate from the mount of Jews (Jn 4:19-21).
While Jews would travel the long way around Samaria to avoid going through because of the racial prejudice, Jesus went conspicuously through Samaria and made a point to minister to the Samarian people (Jn 4:4-42). Jesus also made it a point to announce that among the ten lepers who were healed, the one who came back and thanked him was a Samaritan (Lk 17:11-19). In light of the racial tensions, Jesus’ command to his disciples to preach in Samaria (the place they literally go out of their way to avoid) takes on an even deeper counter-cultural significance (Acts 1:8).
Jesus did not neglect to address the racial issues of his day, but rather went out of his way to aggressively counter the racial bigotry so deeply entrenched within his own culture. He rebuked his own disciples for being of a prejudice spirit (Lk 9:51-56).1 In fact, the story of the good Samaritan was meant to scorn the Jews for their partial treatment of the Samaritans and teach them to love all people regardless of their geographic, ethnic, or cultural identity (Lk 10:30-37).
Jesus’ Ministry in Light of the Jews Prejudice Against other Races – Jesus didn’t just teach against the prejudice of his day because prejudice is wrong (though it certainly is), but also it was his intention to teach that the gospel was not to be just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles also (that is, non-Jews). Jesus was not only interested in teaching against the Jewish bigotry against the Samaritans. Jesus spoke against the racial prejudices that the Jews had against any other races among the Gentile people. As Jesus taught the gospel in the temple (and the Jews, for the most part rejected him) he made it a point to tell stories about God’s blessing foreigners (Lk 4:14-30). He reminded them that although there were many people whom God could have chosen to bless during the time of famine in the days of Elijah, God sent Elijah only to a foreign widow in Sidon. Then he mentioned how God could’ve blessed and healed many people from leprosy in the days of Elisha the prophet, but only chose to heal a foreign man from Syria. Jesus’ point is unmistakable.2 In response to their rejection of him as the Messiah, he was telling stories about non-Jews being blessed by God in the past. The Jews did not interpret Jesus as telling random stories about God blessing people in general, for they were “filled with rage as they heard” what Jesus said, and they tried to murder him (Jn 4:28-29). Racial tensions in first century Palestine were so intense concerning Jew/Gentile that Jews were ready to kill this self proclaimed prophet and Messiah because he was teaching from the scriptures against religious ethnocentrism. Jesus did more than step on the toes of those who were ethnocentric, he aggressively rebuked the racial sentiments of his time.
Marks gospel indicates that Jesus’ motives in his aggressive cleansing of the temple were rooted in the Isaianic multinational vision of the temple. Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 which reads, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” [italics added, the Hebrew literally reads “all the peoples”3]. Again, Jesus was upset because the temple was to be a house of worship for people of all different nations and peoples. The theme of universal inclusion of the peoples into the covenant of YAHWEH on the basis of the faith in Jesus Christ is clearly developed throughout the New Testament gospels, Acts, and the apostolic letters.
Conclusion: Jesus considered it necessary to address the racial prejudice in his day with scorn and rebuke, to teach against racial discrimination from the scriptures and with parables. He not only made it a point to minister to and fellowship with people who were racially discriminated against, he even risked his own life by aggressive confrontation of the prejudice beliefs held by his contemporaries.
1 In Luke’s gospel, Jesus rebukes the disciples for wanting to take revenge on the Samaritans because they did not receive them since they were Jews. Even though it was wrong for the Samaritans to treat them this way, when the disciples sought to take revenge, Jesus told them “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of.”
2 Or, if you didn’t get it—The Jews had rejected Jesus as being the Christ. It was the plan of God to take the gospel to the Gentiles once it had been thoroughly rejected in all the Jewish cities. Thus the narratives Jesus chose to call attention to foreshadow the blessing which was to come to the Gentile world. No longer could the Jews claim they are more blessed than the Gentiles, since the blessing of promise was for those who accepted Jesus and the Christ. Christ was the dividing line between the blessed and the cursed—not the Jewish race.
3 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, p. 203.
Aaron and Miriam’s Racial Discrimination Against Moses’ Wife: Numbers 12:1-16 – Moses’ brother Aaron and their sister Miriam spoke against Moses because of the ethnic identity of his wife. His wife was a Cushite, which means she was from the land of Cush (Num 12:1). The people were descendants of the son of Ham: Cush (see Genesis 10:6). The land of Cush is “south of Egypt, also called Nubia, which includes part of Sudan.”1 The word “Cush” in the Hebrew language of the original biblical text is simply translated “Ethiopia” by modern biblical scholars (Ex: NASB, Ezek. 29:10), though it is not equivalent to modern Ethiopia. The people who lived there were tall with “colored,” smooth skin (cf. Isaiah 18:2, 7; Jeremiah 13:23). In other words, Aaron and his sister Midian spoke against Moses because he married, in modern lingo, a “black” Ethiopian woman.
If ever there was an opportune time for God to teach against interracial marriages and turn this narrative into a parable of sorts—this was it. God could have taught Moses and the rest of the people of Israel a lesson by punishing Moses or at least speaking out against his marrying a woman of another race. However, instead of God pronouncing judgment on Moses for marrying this black woman, and thereby vindicating Miriam and Aaron, God instead struck Miriam with leprosy. The narrative presents the incident as God’s way of teaching a lesson to both Aaron and his sister Miriam for speaking out against Moses. Therefore, Aaron confessed his racial slanders against Moses as “sin” (Num 12:11) and begged that Moses not account their sin to them. Moses cried out on their behalf to God, asking God to heal Miriam of the leprosy. God was merciful to heal her, but He told Moses that she would have to bear her shame by being banished outside the camp for a week (Num 12:14-15).
Conclusion – In answering the question, “What does God think about interracial marriages?” biblically, we must say not only that God has never forbidden such marriages—and did not speak out against the most prominent OT saint for marrying a black Ethiopian woman—but we must also say that He considers it a “sin” to speak against anyone for marrying someone of a different race.2
1 Ronald F. Youngblood, Gen. Ed., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 318.
2 Of course, there are those who are convinced that the Bible teaches elsewhere that interracial marriages are wrong. Don’t worry, I’m getting there. The validity of this claim will have to be determined by looking at the evidence one piece (i.e. exhibit) at a time in the weeks to come. Feel free to comment and bring to my attention any relevant passages for the discussion.
The Regulative Principle – One common objection to the use of musical instruments in corporate worship has to do with the regulative principle. What is the regulative principle? Well…it depends on which tradition your coming from.
“Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans have taken the position that we may do anything in worship except what Scripture forbids. Here Scripture regulates worship in a negative way—by exercising veto power. Presbyterian and Reformed churches, however, have employed a stronger principle: whatever Scripture does not command is forbidden. Here, Scripture has more than veto power; its function is essentially positive. On this view, Scripture must positively require a practice, if that practice is to be suitable for the worship of God.” – John Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1996, 38. See Frames Chapter “The Rules of Worship” for a basic discussion of the regulative principle.
The regulative principle is simply this: you don’t worship any other way than the way God has commanded. Where does this principle come from? A better question would be this: Where must it come from in order to escape self-referential absurdity? That’s right. The Bible. It’s explicitly stated in Deuteronomy 12:32 when the Lord says, “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” It is exemplified in examples like Nadab and Abihu who offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command” and were immediately executed by God (Lev 10:1-3, cf. 1 Sam 13:7-14, 2 Sam 6:6-7, 1 Kgs 12:32-33, 15:30, 2 Chron 26:16-23, 28:3, Jer 7:31, 1 Cor 11:29-30).
Regulative Principle in Service of Legalism – So, enough with the regulative principle introduction. I want to tell you how this principle—which is a good biblical principle by the way—is used to justify pessimism with respect to the use of musical instruments in corporate worship. The argument is not hard to understand. It goes something like this: Although the Old Covenant commands the use of musical instrumentality in worship, the New Covenant has no such emphasis—therefore, a church which emphasizes their worship with instruments is out of kilter with the emphasis of the New Testament. That is, since the NT does not repeat such commands concerning the use of musical instruments, we are justified as New Covenant believers to neglect these older practices. Those who have musical accompaniment in their corporate worship are putting emphasis where the Bible does not. The New Testament does not make a big deal out of music. In fact, nowhere in the New Testament do you find reference to musical instruments except for the trumpets which are to signal the coming of Christ—and these are symbolic referances rather than literal musical instruments.
Well…what shall we say to such an argument? Nobody wants to be “unbiblical” and put “emphasis” where the Bible does not. But this argument does not really need a lengthy rebuttal. First of all, even if there were no references to music in the NT, the commands from the OT would still be sufficient to mandate musical accompaniment in corporate worship. Though many of the Old Covenant demands have been done away with in Christ, music is nowhere said to be one of these aspects. Music was not a shadow of things to come in Christ in the way that blood sacrifices were. Thus, according to the Reformed maxim which goes along with the regulative principle—if it’s not repelled in the New Testament, it still stands. Thus, all the commands in the OT concerning musical worship still stand. Secondly, the NT only reinforces this duty by commanding us to sing psalms. This is because 1) the meaning of the word bears a subtle nuance of musical instrumentality (see below), and 2) if the singing of psalms are commanded, then psalms like Psalm 150 would be edifying for the church—but imagine singing this in a church which forbid the use of musical instruments: “Praise the Lord! Praise Him in His sanctuary … Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!”
Ephesians 5:18-19, Colossians 3:16, I Corinthians 14:26 – The Greek word used in the NT for “Psalms” carries the subtle nuance of the accompanying of musical instruments. It is reflexive of the Hebrew word used in the Old Testament in reference to the poetry that was accompanied by musical instruments.
Though psalmos is translated literally “psalm” (song of praise), it is used “in accordance w. OT usage.” Thus, when used in the NT epistles, it is distinguished from songs and hymns as having it’s own nuance from the OT. Frederick William Danker, rev. ed., et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1096.
Louw & Nida also say that yalmov” “in the NT probably [is] a reference to an OT psalm.” Louw & Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Broadway, New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 402.
“The Hebrew designation of Psalms is Tehillim, meaning “praises,” a term that reflects much of the book’s content. Its name in Latin and English Bibles, however, comes from the Greek, Psalmoi, which means “twangings [of harp strings],” and then, as a result, songs sung to the accompaniment of harps. This latter name originated in the LXX (cf. its NT authentication, Luke 20:42) and reflects the form of the book’s poetry. The same is true of its alternate title, psalterion, meaning “psaltery,” a collection of harp songs, from which comes the English term “Psalter.” J.D. Douglas, revising ed., Merrill C. Tenney, general ed., The New International Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987, p 832.
Ephesians 5:18-19 – “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one anther in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;” So part of being filled with the Holy Spirit (or evidence thereof) is singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (presuming it is coming from our hearts).
Colossians 3:16 – “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Part of letting the Word of Christ dwell richly within us is to be admonishing one another by way of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
I Corinthians 14:26 – “What is the outcome then, bretheren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” The Scripture once again commands us to let God be worshiped in psalm for the edification of the body.
Conclusion – Given that we are worship God as He desires, not adding to nor taking away, consider the following. If the Psalms command or direct us to worship with stringed instruments and drum, etc. and the NT nowhere explicitly forbids this kind of worship—but even reassures us of this duty (Ephesians 5:18-19, Colossians 3:16, I Corinthians 14:26)—then the regulative principle demands that we continue in the way God originally directed or commanded us to worship – with musical instruments.
P.S. – Sorry no pics, the comp won’t let me download them.
I. Man is created to worship God – God created man to value Him above all things; to worship Him and nothing else. This is our purpose—to glorify him by worshiping him. This is a most basic truth, without which we would have no foundation for objective meaning and purpose in life. [If any would differ with this basic understanding, I would recommend them to Jonathan Edwards’ Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 1 of 2, Peabody, 4th Printing (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004 Reprint), pp. 94-119, or the more recent rendition of Edwards’ arguments in the writings of John Piper—particularly in God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998). The relevant biblical material and the argumentation from it is astronomical, and cannot be delved into on this short post.]
II. Worship includes more than, but no less than, music – In our worshipping of God, we are to consider every action, every thought, every feeling, as an act of worship (Rom 12:1-2). This means that worship involves much more than music. One does not necessarily have to have music to worship God. One can glorify God by the way they talk, by the way they treat my friends and family, by the way they pray, by the way they share Christ with others, etc. Thus, on the one hand, one can worship God in many ways which do not necessarily involve music. On the other hand, the biblical concept of worship includes no less than the praise of God, and as I will argue, this praise should often be offered to God with musical accompaniment.
A. God intends music to be used to his praise and glory – God created music. He created music to be used to His praise and glory. This is not just one of many ways music is to be used, but it is the main and ultimate purpose of music under which all other uses are subordinate. We know this in at least two ways.
1. Everything is created for the glory and praise of God – First, we know God created music for His glory and praise, because He created everything for this ultimate purpose, and in all of His interaction with mankind, this purpose stands out by far as the ultimate purpose of all His works and interaction with His creation. Furthermore, all the good deeds of people are to be done in hope that others will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
2. God commands and delights in having various musical instruments to accompany His praise – Secondly, we know this to be true because we know that obedience gives glory to God, and the Old Testament psalms are sprinkled with commands like this:
“Praise the Lord! … Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing. Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:1,3-6).
Note: It is surely fair to say that we must not interpret these commands crassly and miss the spirit of them. That is, it would be hermeneutically insensitive to conclude from these commands that we are obligated to use the exact type of instruments they used before the 3rd century B.C. (when the psalms were compiled and canonized) such as the lyre, the harp, the pipe etc. (as opposed to more modern instruments like the piano and guitar). However, these commands carry with them at least this: that God desires musical instruments of various kinds to be used in accompaniment of His praise. The alternative is to suppose that although God desired and took delight in the praise of His people being accompanied by various musical instruments, for some unknown reason He has stopped taking delight in such things and would now rather us leave musical instruments out of our time of praise. To deny the force of these commands by refusing to let them carry over this bare minimum continuity of varied musical accompaniment with praise is to leave the commands with virtually no substance; to nullify the commands altogether. Finally, God would not command us to do anything that did not bring Him delight. Therefore, God delights in having musical accompaniment in our praise to Him.
Note: This does not mean that every time we praise God, we must have musical accompaniment as though we were to keep silent unless or until we can praise to the sound of music. That would be another wooden and legalistic interpretation of these commands.
III. Some churches deny their congregation the use of musical instruments for the accompaniment of praise—what’s wrong with this picture? – If it is true that God created music for the ultimate purpose of accompanying His praise, what are to we think of local church leaders who would deny such accompaniment in corporate worship? It would seem (based on the scripture) that since we are created to worship God, and music was created by God to assist such worship of Him, then it should be used to that end. Is this truth not most relevant to the church?—the people of God whom He has redeemed for the very purpose of praising the glory of His grace! (Eph 1:6,12,14). Indeed it is. Various objections, however, have arisen through the years against the use of musical instruments. Next post, I intend to give a critical evaluation (in both senses) to some common objections to the use of musical instruments in worship. I hope that in the time between, you will comment on this blog about objections you have heard—or have—to the use of musical instruments in the local church. If they are substantial, I might treat them in my next post. If they are not, I might examine them in my next post anyway. One objection has to do with the regulative principle and its application. After this, I intend to look at some of the factors each church should weigh in the balance when deciding on what particular style of musical accompaniment will best edify the body of Christ in a given context.
Extra: Some other passages concerning the use of musical instruments.
II Samuel 6:5 – “David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals.”
Ps. 150:3-5 – Here we are commanded to praise God with trumpet sound, harp and lyre, timbrel and dancing, stringed instruments and pipe, loud and resounding cymbals.
Ps. 149:3 – “Let them praise his name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.”
Ps. 147:7 – “Sing praises to our God on the lyre.”
Ps. 144:9 – “I will sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You.”
Ps. 108:2 – “Awake, harp and lyre; I will awaken the dawn!”
Ps. 92:3 – “With the ten stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre.”
Ps. 98:5 – “Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.”
Ps. 81:2 – “Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.”
Ps. 33:2 – “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of then strings. Sing to him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
Isaiah 38:20 – “The Lord will surely save me; so we will play my songs on stringed instruments all the days of our life at the house of the Lord.”
Habakkuk 3:19 – “The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places. – For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.”
Fourth, I give because I’m greedy. Is it really true that church is not about what we can get, but rather what we can give? Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Lk 18:29-30). I have found it liberating that Jesus himself expressed in this blood earnest exhortation that God’s will for us is to “receive” in abundance.
In this passage, I interpret Jesus to be assuming that whatever spiritual reward we get from our obedience will be “many times” the value of whatever we lose for the sake of the kingdom. I also take this to be the meaning Jesus had in mind when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Thus, even in this present life, I can expect a great spiritual reward for my giving. In addition to my immediate reward I will receive in this life, there remains the promise of eternal reward in the next.
Jesus gives us this exhortation, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:19-21). The shocking thing to notice about this verse is that Jesus’ exhortation ingeniously appeals to our desire for treasure.
Trusting that God Himself is our treasure and that there will be different levels of reward in heaven, I am therefore greedy to store up as much of this treasure Jesus speaks of as I can (1 Cor 3:13-14, cf. 2 Cor 9:6). Along with my time, energy, mind, heart, talent, I also give of my finances—all because I’m greedy for more of God in my life now, as well as an even greater portion of Him in the age to come.
So far, I have shared two of my five reasons for practicing stewardship: 1) because it’s easy, and 2) because I feel like it. Though initially my third reason may sound selfish, I think you will find that it to be thoroughly biblical: I strictly observe stewardship because I get pleasure out of it.
If I love God I will love to keep his commandments because it is by obedience that my joy in Christ is made full. In this sense, obedience is not the ultimate goal, joy in knowing Christ is (John 15:11 cf. 8-10, John 17:13). The further I get from under the power of sin, the closer I get to Christ. Just as sin hinders my fellowship with God, obedience works to cultivate my communion with Him and consequently my joy.
I want to be like the psalmist who took pleasure in obedience and said, “I shall delight in Your commandments” (Ps 119:47). My goal is to never obey God merely under a sense of compulsion, but because nothing delights my heart more than to Glorify God by keeping His commandments. If I do not delight in obedience I do not delight in God’s glory. I should find joy in obedience because I find joy in glorifying God.
The most intense joy, happiness, and pleasure available to mankind is found in knowing Jesus Christ. Since this pleasure does not come without faithful obedience, I must exhaust my strategies in cultivating a life of obedience to His commands. I argue this point with a simple syllogism: The most intense pleasure is the spiritual pleasure our souls find in God when we live in obedience to His commandments. Stewardship is part of our obedience to His commandments; therefore stewardship helps me experience the most intense pleasure known to mankind.
Before I became a Christian, I spent my time accumulating: accumulating money for drugs, accumulating drugs and alcohol for the night life, accumulating numbers of women I could call for a good time, accumulating respect for myself, accumulating extravagant jewelry for show, and accumulating contacts and friends who can serve me well in times of need.
After coming to know Jesus Christ and the abundant grace of God, I immediately learned that this sort of accumulation was actually counter-productive. Instead of making me happy, this selfish lifestyle catapulted my soul into depression and despair; never satisfied; always after more; constantly under the delusion that the apex of happiness would be right around the corner.
In stark contrast to this, living my life as an offering to God, pouring out my life for others, giving to the poor and needy, giving my time to share the gospel with others, and giving my energy and talent to be abounding in the things of God, all work to plunge my soul into a joy “unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Pt 1:8).
It’s actually difficult to explain how intense this joy really is which came only when I accepted the status of a poor slave of Jesus Christ, giving up everything I once counted as gain, and counting it as loss for the sake of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. The joy which comes with accumulation of stuff is not worthy to be compared to the joy which comes with exhausting one’s energy to demonstrate the love of God in concrete ways to further of the gospel and magnify the Glory of God.
Surrendering my life to God afresh from day to day, that He might be pleased to use me for His Glory, is the ultimate pleasure. Since this pleasure does not come without faithful obedience, I must exhaust my strategies in cultivating a life of obedience to His commands.
Last time you saw my face on the back of this newspaper I explained the first of five reasons why I practice stewardship: because it’s easy. I confessed that when I compare material surrender to other types of internal surrender, I find financial stewardship to be easier than those more important parts of the Christian life. I also argued that stewardship is just as applicable to time, energy and talent, as it is to money, and therefore our paradigm for stewardship should encompass everything—not just a meager ten percent of our finances. This week will allow us a look at the second of my five reasons for practicing a radical stewardship: because I feel like it.
It is a cruel tactic to lower the biblical standard of righteousness by downplaying the role of feelings in Christian obedience. Godly emotions are commanded on every page of the Bible: joy, heart-felt peace, gratitude, fear, zeal, grief, contrition, and eagerness—just to mention a few (Mt 10:28, Col 3:15, Rom 12:11,15, Ps 51:17, Eph 5:20, 1 Pt 5:1-2). Emotion is inseparably tied to obedience.
Giving is no exception. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). I realize that we have heard Christian teachers tell us that the Christian life is not about emotions, but my Bible tells me to give “cheerfully.” It’s true that the biblical scope of obedience goes beyond my feelings to include my every action (1 Cor 10:31). However, that doesn’t mean that my emotions aren’t important. I find it biblically necessary to refuse a false dichotomy which forces me to choose between emotions and action. I must give (action) cheerfully (emotion). Both are commanded of me in the Bible—particularly with respect to giving.
If we give just because we have to, we do not glorify God. God demands that we give cheerfully. Therefore, I strive by the grace of God not just to give, but to feel like giving. That is, I strive to have the feeling of cheerfulness at the thought of giving my whole life to the things of God. Money is just one small, relatively easy part of that.
My reasons for practicing stewardship are unusual and demand a bit of explanation, though I believe they are all thoroughly biblical: 1) because it’s easy, 2) because I feel like it, 3) because it gives me pleasure, 4) because I’m greedy, and 5) because God doesn’t need my money anyway. Please bear with me; it will take me five weeks just to explain what I mean. This week will only allow us a look at the first of these five reasons: because it’s easy.
Writing a check to the church is easier for me than being broken over my sin, spending quality time with the lonely, listening for long hours while someone entrusts me with their life “issues,” giving my life to serve the poor, spending hours pouring out sincere prayers to God on behalf of others, expending energy in the church’s behind-the-scenes manual labor, being satisfied in my singleness, keeping my mind and intentions pure, joyfully suffering ridicule and social persecution for being bold with my faith around unbelievers, or just being honest with myself and others whenever I am experiencing a time of spiritual drought or struggling with embarrassing sins.
When I compare material surrender to other types of internal surrender, I find financial stewardship to be easier than those more important parts of the Christian life. It would be easy for me to deceive myself by thinking that as long as I am in the pew on Sundays and regularly giving a mere ten percent that I have been a faithful Christian. In reality, tithing and church attendance are more peripheral components of the greater commandments of loving God and loving others.
The Pharisees faithfully attended worship at the temple and gave their tithe, yet instead of patting them on the back Jesus rebuked them by saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Mt 23:23).
Stewardship is just as applicable to time, energy and talent, as it is to money. My tithing alone should never be the basis for judging whether or not I have been a good steward of all God has given me. Our paradigm for stewardship should encompass everything—not just a meager ten percent of our finances.