The below is taken from Robertson McQuilkin’s book Biblical Ethics (512-14). I have found these general principles helpful:
- Is it for the Lord? Does it bring praise to him? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). (See also Rom. 14:6-8)
- Can I do it in his name (on his authority, implicating him)? Can I thank him for it: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God for Father through him” (Col. 3:17)
- Can I take Jesus with me? Would Jesus do it? “Whiter shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Ps. 139:7). “Christ… lives in me” should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). (See also Matt 28:19-20, John 14:16-17, 23.)
- Does it belong in the home of the Holy Spirit? “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify god in your body” (1 Cor. 6:29-20). (See also Eph. 4:30.)
- Is it of faith? Do I have misgivings? “But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21).
- Does it positively benefit, build up (not simply, “Is it harmless?”) “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). (See also Rom. 15:2; 1 Cor. 10:8; Eph. 4:12-16)
- Does it spring from, or lead to, love of this world and its value system? “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). (See also Mark 9:47; 11:14-15)
- Does it involve union with an unbeliever? “Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)
- Does it come from or have the potential of leading to bondage? “All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:23).
- Is the motive pride, or love? “We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ ‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-2)
- Is a godly mind-set the context of my decision on the matter? “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). (See also Rom. 12:1-2)
- What does the church say about it? “He who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men” (Rom. 14:18). “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). (See also Rom. 14:16)
- Would I like to be doing this when Jesus comes? “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming…. We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 2:28; 3:2-3). (See also Matt. 24:44-51; Luke 23:34-35; 1 Thess. 5:2-4)
All throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we see two distinct groups. God has called particular people from all nations. As James Hamilton has said, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”
The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are physical decedents of Eve that are spiritually seed of the serpent. This is not just something we see in the Old Testament though. We see it through the whole of Scripture (cf. e.g. Matt. 13:38; Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). We see two distinct seeds with two distinct ends from the beginning of Genesis (cf. esp. Gen. 3:15) to the end of Revelation (cf. e.g. Rev. 21).
Notice that in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 there are two groups: 1) those who did not believe and thus receive judgment and 2) those who do believe and thus enjoy the presence of God and marvel at Him. And notice Jesus separates the goats from the sheep based on what they did in their earthly lives (Matt. 25:32ff). People are gravely either goat or sheep, wise or fool, darkness or light, faithful or faithless, in Christ or damned.
As I have said, the Bible shows to different humanities, one lost and the other saved, one in heaven and one in hell. This is what we see throughout the story of Scripture and this is what we see reflected in other places in the early church’s teaching. For instance, the Didache (50-120AD) says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways” (1:1).
There is a certain way we should approach questions, the first thing that comes to mind is humility. There are certain things we cannot know the definitive answer to. I think that makes sense since we are creation, not Creator. However, that is not to say we shouldn’t ask. Here are a few of my thoughts on the question…
First, is it actually big? It’s all perspective. To us it seems big, big beyond comprehension. However, Isaiah 40 says that God names every star and that the nations are like dust on a scale. That is, things, even really big things, are small to God. Also, to put things in perspective, ants seem small to us but they don’t seem small to themselves. There are things that are small compared to ants (e.g. protons and neutrons). Maybe it is not the universe that is big but we that are small. Maybe that seems strange because we see ourselves as so big, so grand. Maybe that’s part of the reason the universe is so big, to show us that we are small. We are not the be-all-end-all of the universe. We are small.
Second, the Bible says that the heavens, i.e. the vast universe, carries out a specific role. And what is that role? The vast universe declares the glory of God (see Ps. 19:1ff; 50:6; Rom. 1)! If the universe is declaring the glory of God it makes sense that it would need to be big!
Third, God takes pleasure in His creation. There are stars no human will ever see, fish we can’t imagine, and flowers that bloom and die without any humans awareness. But God knows. And God takes pleasure in it all. Remember, in Genesis 1:31 God said it was “very good.” So, God enjoys His vast creation. Remember God is the Great Creator, the Great Artist. Artists create. And it’s awesome and beautiful and sometimes mysterious but it’s what they do, even if no one sees. Creator or Artist is part of who God is, it’s one of His attributes. It’s what He does
Fourth, it causes us to say, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4)? It makes us amazed that God the Creator and sustainer of all, the one who upholds the universe by the word of His power, cares about us. Even to the point of death on a cross.
[In fact, the hardest thing in all the Bible for me to believe is not the resurrection, is not the miracles, is not any of that stuff, that all makes sense to me (God can do all that!). However, what is hard to believe is that God cares about us humans. That is amazing!]
First, our disposition or the way we approach questions is really important. How should we approach questions? What should characterize us?
Humility! Why? Because we are fallible, we make mistakes (We should also be aware of chronological snobbery). However, God does not. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Also, kindness, patience, and understanding are an important part of humility and asking questions and arriving at answers.
Second, where do we get answers from? Scripture. Why is this important? Again, I am and you are fallible, that is, we make mistakes. And how should we approach getting those answers? Are we above Scripture or is Scripture above us? Who holds more sway? Scripture supplies the truth to us, we do not decide what we think and then find a way to spin things so that we can believe whatever we want…
Third, community is important. God, for instance, has given the church elders who rightly handle the Word of truth and shepherd the community of believers. We don’t decide decisions and come to conclusions on our own. God helps us through Christ’s body the Church.
Fourth, it is important to remember mystery, we cannot expect to know all things. We are… fallible. So, we should keep Deuteronomy 29:29 in mind: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” There are certain things that are revealed and certain things that are not revealed.
Fifth, our questions and answers are not simply about head knowledge. God doesn’t just want us to be able to talk about theology. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “that we may do…” So, there may be questions that are not especially helpful. I’m not saying we can’t ask them, we can. Only we may not be able to have a definitive answer and the question may be of a less practical nature (e.g. supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism).
A lot of times we find it hard to engage in singing at church. There are a lot of things to distract us: funny unfamiliar phrases, me singing off-key in front of you, and a thousand other things. Why sing? Why purposely engage in worship?
Singing at Sunday gatherings is basically one-third of what we do. Why do we do it? Why does so much time go into singing? Why have a worship team? Why should so many dedicate so much time so that we can sing songs? There are a lot of reasons. We will only look at three below; the three “T’s” of singing within the church. Singing teaches us, transforms us, and helps us cultivate a heart of thanksgiving.
Singing Teaches Us
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).
“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19).
Singing teaches us. But how? First, what is singing and what is music? Dicionary.com says singing is “to utter words or sounds in succession with musical modulations of the voice; vocalize melodically.” Music is “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”[i] So, singing can “expresses ideas and emotion” in a unique way. In a way that informational teaching cannot. I can teach on the fact that God sent His Son to die for us but singing that same truth will impact us diffrently. Take these lines for example:[ii]
“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”[iii]
Singing and music hold the glories of Christ before us in a unique and powerful way.
Singing is a form of communicating ideas and emotions with voice and tune. Music is a gift. Music has the distinct ability to focus truth with laser precision. Music in Scripture is thus rightly placed in the same category as other speech gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:15, 26).
It is widely known that music has a special ability to affect people emotionally. It can help men march into war or weep at a funeral. Music is a powerful and precious gift but should not be wrongly used to stir peoples’ emotions up. That is, we desire the Spirit to move and transform people by the content of the song, not merely by the contours of the song. We are to sing praise with our spirit, and our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). So it’s important that when people are moved in Christian worship that they “be moved by the impact of the truth on the mind and conscience. Any attempt to bypass these is both wrong and dangerous.”[iv]
1 Corinthians 14:26 tells us that “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” So when we “come together” we have “a hymn” for the purpose of “building up” each other. Thus, one of the reasons we sing and play various instruments is for the purpose of building each other up.
The “word of Christ dwells in us richly” not just through listening to preaching, talking with friends, or even through the memorization of scripture, but also through “singing” (Col. 3:16). Thabiti Anyabwile has said, “Singing is the moving van taking the Word of Christ into the temple of our lives.” Notice that when we sing more of our whole person is involved—our intellect, emotion, and violation. It should be our desire when we worship to involve as much of our self as we can. This may sound strange but I believe it is accurate.
We are physical people; we’re not just souls. We have bodies. So, I believe physical actions (see kinesthetic learning) are important while we sing. When you worship kneel, clap, raise your hands, bow your head, and even dance! We see precedence for these things in Scripture (Ps. 2:12; 47:1; 95:6; 134:1-2; 150:4). Of course, everything should be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).
We must consciously think hard about what the song is communicating (thus we use our mind/cognition; 1 Cor. 14:15). We should thus also be greatly impacted by it (emotions). And as we worship our violation should be actively engaged as well (both in short-term kinesthetic acts and by long-term acts of service like ministering to orphans and widows). That is, we should actively pray for God’s truth to impact us, we should actively contemplate why God’s truth is amazing, we should actively think about the emotional response we should have, and we should actively evaluate how our everyday life should be reshaped in light of God’s truth.
The question could be asked, “To whom do we sing? I thought that when we gather and sing together, we sing praise to God. So how is teaching part of our songs of worship? How does singing teach us?”
Perhaps surprisingly, we see from Scripture that there are two audiences. We sing to “one another” and we “make music in our hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Music has both a horizontal and vertical element to it. Music has the function of edifying and transforming us from the inside out as we meditate on and proclaim God’s truth (cf. 17:17) and it also thanks God for who He is and what He has done.
As we sing praise to God we are also teaching our brothers and sisters (and even ourselves). As we sing in unison we are united in the teachings of the church. We are confessing truth. We are telling others of the gospel and the wonders of God. We are also internalizing God’s truth for ourselves. We are hiding God’s truth in our heart. We are letting Christ and His truth take up residence within us. We are teaching ourselves what to treasure and love.[v]
We give roughly one-third of our Sunday gatherings to singing songs of worship because singing these songs not only teaches but also transforms us. How does God use singing to transform us? …See Part Two.
[ii] However, I do not mean that teaching is not important. Instead, I believe they compliment each other.
[iii] “How Great Thou Art.”
[iv] Noel Doe, Created For Worship, 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections. John Calvin said, “We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words” (Institutes book III, 895).
[v] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).