“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave for freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Those “in Christ” are “new” creations (2 Cor. 5:17) spiritually remade in God’s image (Eph. 4:22-24). In Christ’s new society, called the kingdom, the “old” distinctions that divided people no longer exist because all Christians are part of “one” body (Col. 3:10-11). The old ways of thinking and the old societal systems of rank are abolished in Christ where the new royal law of love and equity is taken up (Mt. 22:36-40; Jas. 2:8). (This is not to say gender roles have changed in the kingdom (1 Cor. 11:1-16)).
As Isaiah prophesied, the Lord’s Servant (Jesus) would establish justice, righteousness and equity in this kingdom (Isa. 9:7; 16:5). One of the best descriptions of King Jesus’ rule is found in Isaiah 42:1-4:
Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold;
My chosen one in whom My soul delights.
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry out or raise His voice,
Nor make His voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.
The Lord’s justice takes the form of defending and protecting the “bruised reeds” and the “dimly burning wicks” of the world. These represent people who are unjustly preyed upon by the strong. When Jesus comes to establish this very kingdom of justice notice which gender He singles out when teaching on sexual purity in Matthew 5:28:
but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Clearly He was talking to men. But the crowd of disciples following Him was made up of both men and women (Mt. 5:1). Many of Jesus’ disciples were women (Jn. 11:1ff; Mt. 9:20ff; 15:21ff; 26:6ff; etc.). If this was a mixed group of people, why did Jesus single out men? Does He think women don’t have inappropriate sexual desires?
I find it hard to believe Jesus was so naïve. Instead, it seems Jesus’ addressing the men was intentional. Throughout history, which gender has turned sexual desire into a tool of violence, subjugation and oppression of the other gender? Obviously, men.
In His Kingdom, Jesus is calling on His male disciples to break the mold of sin and oppression against women, to make His Kingdom a safe place for women. That is the implication of Mt. 5:28. In this Kingdom, women are supposed to be safe from being victimized and degraded.
They are to be treated as image-bearers of God and fellow heirs of life. Peter commands Christian husbands in this way in 1 Peter 3:7:
You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
Paul reminds husbands to treat their wives as Christ did the church, with sacrificial love, valuing her as a precious vessel of purity (Eph. 5:25-33). But this ethic, as Gal. 3:28 and Mt. 5:28 suggest, goes far beyond just the marriage relationship.
Paul writes to Timothy so that we will “know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). Indeed, in God’s church we are to regard each other as family. Men ought to think and treat “the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Tim. 5:2)
Men, I’m writing to YOU. It is OUR responsibility to protect the purity of our sisters in Christ. We must do all that we can to make our sisters feel safe and secure, loved and valued, respected and honored in the family of God. Do nothing to objectify, devalue, oppress or otherwise belittle our Christian sisters for whom Christ died.
Eyes may linger a moment too long or be focused in the wrong place. You may invade a woman’s personal space and make her feel uncomfortable. You may touch a woman in such a way that could not be perceived as “holy” (Rom. 16:16). You have power that can make our Christian sisters feel small, weak and vulnerable.
Jesus says to direct our power for justice in the kingdom. Shame on the Christian man who sacrifices a woman’s purity and worth for the sake of his pleasure. Let us be cautious with our eyes. Let us be careful with our hands. Let us, most of all, respect the sacrificial price of Jesus’ blood in our treatment of our sisters in Christ and all women.
“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
It is very common for religious people to claim “God spoke to me” or “God laid it on my heart.” I usually press people for a more detailed description of the process of this special revelation. Some people will say that God spoke directly and verbally to them just as He did the prophets. Other people claim that God gave them an impression or a feeling in their heart that they interpret as being God’s ‘voice’.
It’s easy to see why people would believe God was speaking to them. How comforting would it be to hear God’s voice speak directly to you and inform whatever situation you happen find yourself in?
The claim of supernatural revelation is common in many cultures, not just ‘Christian’ circles. Our minds are strange and powerful. We can want something to be true so badly that we convince ourselves it is true. We can
be taught something is true for so long that we blindly accept it. We can be told other people experience something so often that we expect to experience it ourselves and convince ourselves we have.
Our hopes, fears, and expectations have the power to trick our minds into misinterpreting reality or even seeing and hearing things that aren’t really there. God created us as emotional beings but those emotions, if not under the control of God’s wisdom, can mislead and even delude us. “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
I believe that Scripture gives sufficient evidence that God no longer speaks to people directly and verbally as He had done with His prophets. God’s final, definitive prophetic voice was Jesus (Heb. 1:1-2). After Jesus ascended into heaven He sent the Holy Spirit of truth to inspire His apostles to speak the gospel (Jn. 16:13). Having done this, the apostles could pass on miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit (like prophecy) through laying their hands on Christians (Acts 8:14-19). This ability to impart a miraculous measure of the Spirit upon others died with the apostles. Any person who claims to possess such power today must show the “signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12).
But what about those who claim “God laid it on my heart” and that God’s voice comes to them through a feeling? Usually, those who claim to receive revelation in this way say that it comes to every person differently. This makes such revelation impossible to confirm being experiential in nature and unique to the individual. If God is speaking to you one way He may speak to me a completely different way. These feelings cannot be falsified or verified. Anyone could make this claim and who’s to disagree?
If we allow that God speaks to us directly, uniquely, and experientially and these special revelations cannot be falsified or verified then we must accept all such claims, even if the revelations are contradictory. Who is to disagree with Mormons, Pentecostals or anyone else who makes the claim, “God spoke to me”? If you accept this form of special revelation you have no basis for legitimate disagreement. It is your word against theirs.
Another question comes to mind as well: How can people be so sure that God is the one speaking to them through such experiences? While we are assuming things, wouldn’t it be an equally valid conclusion to say that “Satan laid it on my heart” or “Satan spoke to me”? After all, murderers have made such claims. Who is to question them?
The fact is, God speaks to us today through His inspired word. He doesn’t want us to guess what His will is or flail about trying to interpret our emotions. He has given us words by which we will be judged in the last day (Jn. 5:24; 12:48). Wishing God could speak to you while holding a closed Bible is about as silly as wishing you were dry in the rain while holding a closed umbrella.
Determining God’s will for us does not require guesswork or interpreting our confounding and mysterious emotions but it does require some effort on our part. We discover God’s will simply by studying His word (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:13,15). Yes, God has spoken through the fathers and the prophets directly and verbally in the past (Heb. 1:1) but this was exceptional. The most common way God spoke to people was through the written word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 2:10-13).
The rich man in torment begged Abraham to send a messenger to warn his five brothers of the consequence of living a sinful, rebellious lifestyle. Abraham simply replied that his family had everything they needed in the words of “Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Lk. 16:29). The rich man objected, arguing that a personal communication from the dead would be more effective than the written Scriptures. Abraham’s reply was, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (Lk. 16:31)
The only place we encounter God’s voice in this life is in the Scriptures. “My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you.” (Prov. 6:22)
There were once four brothers: Everyone, Someone, Anyone and Noone.
They had a very important task to do.
Everyone was sure that Someone would do it.
Anyone could have done it, but Noone did it in the end.
Someone was angry because it should have been Everyone's job.
Everyone thought that Anyone could have done it, but Noone realized that Noone would do it.
In the end, Everyone was angry at Someone because Noone did what Anyone could've done.
There is a lot of talk about the “work of the Church” in certain circles. Usually the discussion revolves around the issue of authority. What kind of work does the church have biblical authority to carry out? How should the church go about carrying that work out? These are excellent questions that must be asked and answered from God’s word. But as vital an issue as biblical authority is an equally important issue surrounding the “work of the Church” is responsibility. When a person responds to the gospel by faith God adds him to His church (Acts 2:47) and that person is born (Jn. 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2:2) into God’s family (2 Tim. 3:15).
We are speaking of the church in the universal or collective sense, including all people everywhere of all time who are in covenant connection with God. All saints are “assembled” in a figurative sense with the “heavenly Jerusalem” as their spiritual residence (Heb. 12:22-23).
But Christians are also to work in smaller teams to act as God’s servants in a local area. A team, or a local “church”, functions collectively for worship, instruction, and various other spiritual endeavors. We are part of a spiritual team in Danville. Men and women and families have agreed to join forces to do God’s work accepting a special relationship with each other and the attendant responsibilities of servants of God.
This is precisely what Saul did when he arrived in Jerusalem: “…he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.” (Acts 9:26) With the help of Barnabas he was successful and the church in Jerusalem worked together to accomplish much good (Acts 9:27-30).
Unfortunately, when we speak about the “church” and what the “church” is to do and how “it” ought to go about doing it we sometimes fail to see our part in “it”. It is right to speak of the local church as an organization for it fits the definition of the term. Local churches are organized (Phil. 1:1). There needs to be organization for work to be carried out effectively and the organization that God has authorized is the local church.
But all this talk about the “church” as an organization has led some to think of this team of Christians as a faceless corporation, a soulless entity that exists only as a nebulous concept in our minds. The danger in forgetting that local churches are made up of individual people may lead to the shirking of the individual’s duty within that local church. As much as a local church is an organization it is also just as biblical to think of it as an organism. In fact, it may be an even more useful metaphor.
Paul speaks about the universal church as “the body of Christ” (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:16; 4:4; 5:23; 1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12:4-5; Col. 2:19). There is also a sense in which a local church is a (if perhaps not “the”) “body” of believers that functions best when all are supplying their strength toward a collective goal (Eph. 4:11-16)
When we start seeing the local church as an organism with life and purpose it becomes easier to see our individual roles as integral to the team accomplishing our glorious purpose received by God. We will start taking ownership for carrying out our responsibilities within that body.
We have all heard good sermons on the “work of the church” and the church’s responsibility to evangelize, to edify and to extend limited benevolence to needy saints. But do we realize that this work can never be accomplished if the individuals who make up a local church are not all engaged in carrying them out?
Evangelism, or preaching the good news to others, is certainly something that can be done collectively (Acts 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8) but it cannot be done collectively unless it is done individually (Mt. 28:19-20; Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19; 1 Pet. 2:9).
Edification, the spiritual up-building that comes through worship and teaching, is certainly something done collectively (1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:12) but it cannot be done collectively unless it is done individually (1 Cor. 14:4; Eph. 4:15-16).
Benevolence, willing good to others through sacrificial giving, is certainly something done collectively (Acts 2:41-46; 4:32-35; 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-27) but how can it be done collectively without each individual making a personal choice to give? Again, it cannot be done collectively until it is done individually.
So whose job is it anyway? Too often, Everyone is sure that Someone will do it. And even though Anyone could have done it, in the end Noone will do it. If we have learned Christ at all (and indeed, we have! Eph. 4:17) we should be following His example and taking the initiative to get God’s work done. Let’s put feet to the prayer, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Let’s each take responsibility to do God’s work!
Our culture is obsessed with the end of the world. Soon, disreputable sources tell us, the zombies will take over, we’ll suffer a nuclear holocaust or a massive geologic catastrophe will wipe out humanity. Weirdly, religious people seem especially drawn to what they call “apocalyptic” (which is a style of writing not a word descriptive of the end of the world) events by shoddy eschatology, misquoting the book of Revelation and even citing tragically confused History Channel documentaries. We’re told to stock up on non-perishables, ammunition, and fuel while we all get started building our underground bunkers. But the apostle Peter tells us to make very different preparations for the end in 1 Peter 4:7-11,
The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Peter emphasizes the coming judgment (4:5,17) to remind these suffering Christians that all things would be made right by the just Judge in the future. Christ is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5). Some Christians had already died which may have drawn ridicule from critics (4:6). You can almost hear the taunts of 1st century scoffers, “Your Christ said you would live forever but His followers die like everyone else! What use is your faith?”—to which Peter asserts “the end of all things is near”.
He didn’t know when. Neither did Jesus (Mt. 24:36) which makes all speculation about the timing of judgment useless. When the end of all things comes is immaterial (2 Pet. 3:3-10). God will take care of all that. The point is “the end” (and, by extension, the judgment) is certain and “near”. In the meantime Peter emphasizes holy conduct (2 Pet. 3:11-12). If the end is near (1 Pet. 4:5) and judgment begins with Christians (4:17) then Peter says what we need to be focused on is glorifying God (4:11b). There are three things in specific that Peter points out.
First off, we must focus on glorifying God through prayer (4:7b). The act of prayer is humbling. We are acknowledging our inadequacy and demonstrating our trust and reliance upon God (Mt. 6:5-6). Not to pray is, in effect, to assert our own sufficiency and claim we have no need of God’s strength. Peter gives us guidelines to help us with our prayer lives.
He teaches us to be of “sound judgment” while we pray. For some people, knowing the end is near will cause them to indulge in immorality and lose all inhibition (Rom. 13:11-14). Peter says we’re to do the opposite precisely because judgment comes with the end.
He also teaches us to be of “sober spirit” when we pray. Sobriety is mentioned twice in 1 Peter in connection with judgment (1:13; 5:8). This is more than simply staying away from alcohol. It means to be watchful, alert, ready to respond. The opposite is to be asleep (1 Thess. 5:6-8). By the way, Peter knows a thing or two about being asleep when he should have been awake (Mt. 26:39-41). Spiritual drowsiness leads to temptation and sin. He’s telling us that the end is near, the devil is seeking to devour someone. So keep your spiritual eyes peeled, be vigilant and watchful in prayer for our own sakes and for each other.
Secondly, we’re told to glorify God through loving one another (4:8-9). Peter emphasizing that loving one another is central to our faith. The love we show to our brother is evidence that we love God (1 Jn. 4:20). It’s easy to love most brethren but some require more effort. Therefore, Peter says, to “keep fervent” in our love for one another. Our love for each other shouldn’t depend on our individual loveliness. Our love should reflect God’s love for us: unconquerable, limitless, and dedicated regardless of the loveliness or unloveliness of its object (1 Jn. 3:10-11).
Our love is sustained by constant, strenuous effort. “Fervent” literally means to strain or stretch as an athlete stretches toward the finish line. So as the end draws near, let us exert ourselves in our love toward one another. We can express that fervent love by forgiving each other to cover offenses (Prov. 10:12; Eph. 4:32) and even by being hospitable (4:9).
Lastly, we can glorify God through serving one another (4:10-11). The miraculous spiritual gifts of the 1st century have ceased, but God has blessed each one of us with unique abilities to serve in some way (Eph. 4:7; Rom. 12:3-8). We are expected to be so motivated by Christ’s servant spirit (Phil. 2:1-11) that we would use all we are given in His service (Mt. 25:13-30). It doesn’t matter what God has given you or how much, He expects you to use it for His glory!
God’s gifts are “manifold”, that is, they are all varied. Each Christian is uniquely equipped for a distinctive function. No gift is insignificant in the church because what one member has another lacks. No matter how ordinary or how monotonous the task, serve with the strength God supplies being dependent on Him (2 Thess. 3:13). If you get burnt out on good works, it could be because you haven’t been relying on the strength of God to accomplish the work of service.
The motivation for our service, love and devotion in prayer is the glory of God (1 Pet. 4:11b). Many will get involved in the work of the church for their own gain. But Christians pray in secret, serve on the sidelines, and love unselfishly all because Jesus is coming back soon. Peter’s instruction isn’t to sit around waiting but to be watchful which is another way of saying, “Get to work praying, serving & loving!” (1 Thess. 5:1-11).
Joseph Fletcher, the Scottish political activist of the 18th century, once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation. I care not who makes its laws.” Music can have a greater impact on the thinking and behavior of individuals than even the laws those individuals live under.
Fletcher saw music as a powerful tool for political change. Indeed it still is. Music can be used to inspire revolution because of its inherent connection to our emotions. As one man said, “Music is the language of the soul.” However, as I hope to explain, music’s greatest strength (a vehicle to express human emotion) is also its greatest weakness. Here, we are speaking in the realm of music in general and not specifically music directed toward God as worship.
Every song carries with it a worldview, a philosophy, a way of seeing the universe that is being expressed musically. That message, whatever it may be, is birthed in the creative minds and skillful hands of the musicians, carefully crafted in the studios of Nashville, TN or Brooklyn, NY, then digitally snipped, cut, and packaged into its most palatable form by producers to be devoured by you, the consumer.
Consumption of that message takes place in the most sacred human space called the heart. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Wisdom pleads with us to be careful what we pour into the sacred wellspring of our heart because, like a well of water, our heart is easily changed by what is poured into it. Exposure to and acceptance of the message a song is espousing will have consequences on our thinking and behavior (Mt. 15:18-20).
Because music reaches us on an emotional level more effectively than other forms of communication, music should be regarded as a gift from God. If you have that gift you should be using it. You may be able to bring blessing through the power of music to the hearts of others. But use it cautiously because music is also very seductive. As I stated before, music’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.
Music can be perverted for ungodly use when an artist uses the vehicle of music to express a sinful message. Like sermons teaching error but delivered in flattering and flowery speech (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the lyrics of a song can easily be cloaked in an attractive melody. I can’t tell you how many songs I loved to play and sing along to only to find out once I examined the actual language of the song what message was being communicated. One obvious lesson we should take from this is to, as the song says, be careful little ears what you hear. If our heart is being shaped by the songs we listen to we must guard against being seduced by attractive music while swallowing sinful content.
Pay careful attention to the message of the song before you allow it to take up residence in your heart. Passages like Philippians 4:8 are extremely valuable as filters for our heart, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Many forms of music have no lyrical content at all. Classical, jazz, and other forms of “music for music’s sake,” though bereft of words, are not bereft of power, meaning or influence.
Let’s move to the realm of music in the context of worship. It is interesting that God wishes for us to praise Him with music. But what kind of music does the Lord of the universe desire? Notice the few New Testament passages on song worship we are given give very little direction on the form that music is to take. We are simply told to “sing” (Jas. 5:13) with the “fruit of [our] lips” (Heb. 13:15) “making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). We are given freedom as to the form those “hymns, psalms, & spiritual songs” take as long as we “sing” them. Notice God emphasizes content not form. Our worship songs glorify God when their content is spiritual (Col. 3:16). The primary way worship music reaches us emotionally is with words that resonate and make melody in our hearts as we sing them. The physical melody is secondary. This is not to say that no attention should be given to the physical melody or that melody can not be beautiful in its own right. The Biblical picture is that the physical melody is mean to facilitate Biblical instruction.
Contemporary worship music has gotten away from this content-first, participatory approach in favor of a form-first, observation approach. The emphasis is less on instruction and more on producing emotion through the form of music. In worship, God wishes us to use music as a vehicle of expression that points to His glory. When the content of our worship music is given a back seat to form the music no longer points to God but is, in a sense, pointing to itself. Worship music is no longer a means to an end (to extol the virtues of God & express truth) but becomes an end in itself, a subtle form of idolatry.
Why have we changed the recipe for God’s simple plan for song worship? I believe it is because of the seductive power of music. Because music has the potential to sound so beautiful we become infatuated with form at the expense of content. This is no big deal with secular music but when it comes to worship music content must precede form. In so doing, we share the guilt of Esau who exchanged the holy for the common.
In Amos’ day, Israel was “at ease in Zion” and had turned the worship of God into an exercise of self-indulgence. They were those who “sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:5). The prophet says “Woe” to them! (6:4). They had no awareness of the meaning and instruction of the songs of David and sang them as idly as any other common song.
The irony is that the very thing that could have brought the Israelites out of their sin and closer to God (true, spiritual worship) had been perverted as a tool to gratify their own pleasure and pushed them further away from God. Let’s not make the same mistake.
If we stay true to God’s simple recipe for worship everybody wins: God is glorified, we grow closer to Him and more like Him, and unbelievers will see that “God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).