Friday, February 14, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 3 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The series covers these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story That Tells It All

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title. If nothing happens you are either already at the lesson, or I have not written it yet.

A Cloaking Device

The last lesson told how Jesus offended the leaders from Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. He spoke His forgiveness to a paralyzed man and the leaders accused Jesus of blaspheming. Jesus, then, healed the man, which should have set all things right. It didn't.

It is a challenging time when one's worldview clashes with tangible evidence that would contradict it. You can hold off the inevitable, but either you will change your worldview or give lie to the evidence. The leaders' worldview did not include a Messiah who could forgive sins and claimed to be one with the Father. But they had to acknowledge the validity of Jesus' miracles. He was no charlatan. Something had to give. 

C.S. Lewis spoke of Jesus being either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. There was nothing about Jesus' character that they could defame; they could not call Him a liar. They would not acknowledge Him as Lord. Accordingly, they concluded that He was a lunatic:

Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” (Mark 3:20-22, The Net Bible)

Jesus made an attempt to correct their error:

So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and his end has come. But no one is able to enter a strong man’s house and steal his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly plunder his house. I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin (because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’).” (Mark 3:23-30)

But the word went out anyway that Jesus was possessed and that His powers came from the pit of hell. It was these reports that led Mary to travel with Jesus' brothers to fetch Him home.

The less you listen, the harder it is for you to hear. Jesus' response to this accusation was to alter His teaching. Instead of plain teaching, such as we have with the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus began to teach in parables. Parables are stories that tell a deeper truth, if you can decode them. Jesus' first parable was about His teaching ministry from the beginning to its rejection:

Again he began to teach by the lake. And such a large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there while the whole crowd was on the shore by the lake. He taught them many things in parables, and in his teaching said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it did not have much soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. When the sun came up it was scorched, and because it did not have a root, it withered. Other seed fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked it, and it did not produce grain. But other seed fell on good soil and produced grain, sprouting and growing; some bore thirty times as much, some sixty, and some a hundred times.” And he said, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” (Mark 4:1-9)

Here is the story with deeper meaning. The actors and events represent spiritual realities. Once you know the code, you know what those realities are. And then reflecting on the particulars can often lead to more truth. The sower is the Lord, the seed is His message, and the soil is the hearts of men and women. His disciples are the good soil, the leaders the hard road side. Who was able to hear?

Jesus used parables to hide His message from those who rejected His plain messages:

When he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. He said to them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those outside, everything is in parables, so that although they look they may look but not see, and although they hear they may hear but not understand, so they may not repent and be forgiven. (Mark 4:10-12)

The twelve were interested in the sudden change, so they asked Jesus about it. Since they had been listening all along, they could continue to have the parables decoded. But to those who had rejected Him, the purpose of the parables was to cut them off even more. Many find Jesus' words "so they may not repent and be forgiven." troubling, and with good reason.

The first thing that I would say to those who are troubled is this: Jesus will offend the mind to reveal the heart. Treat these words as an offense to your mind. Will you judge Him? Rather you should say to Him, "Where can I go? You have the words of eternal life." Do not be like the Jewish leaders who would not change their view of the world and accept Jesus on His terms.

The second thing that I would say is to look at the types of fools in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs speaks of the naive, which are like young children who do not yet know the dangers of the world. It speaks of the young people, which are a bit wiser, but lack discernment and discretion. Then there is the fool, who is old enough to know better, but doesn't. The sluggard is the lazy fool. According to proverbs, each of these types of fools can become wise in living life. Proverbs speaks of another class of fool, for which there is little hope of change. That is the scoffer or scorner. This is the person that has a disdain for wisdom and is too good for it. Proverbs tell us to leave them be:

Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you; reprove a wise person and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)

Drive out the scorner and contention will leave; strife and insults will cease. (Proverbs 22:10)

Whoever corrects a mocker is asking for insult; whoever reproves a wicked person receives abuse. (Proverbs 9:7)

Notice how Jesus' use of parables corresponds to these proverbs. His parables gave no reproof to the mockers who could not understand them. They kept the scorners at a distance and, therefore, created more peace among those who followed Him.

I wrote earlier about the enviable opportunity that the disciples had to hear and see Jesus. To not only have His words, but to hear the tone in which he spoke them and to observe His body language. They saw His miracles. Those who rejected Jesus had the same. To see so much and reject did damage to the soul that put it almost beyond reach. The writer to the Hebrews (first century Messianic Jews) put it this way:

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8)

The leaders in Jesus' day heard saw Him, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit giving Him power, heard His good words, and saw His miracles. When they rejected the evidence before them, Jesus cut them off from hearing and experiencing more. To continue in the open would have driven them to destroy Him before His time. It would also have increased the judgment that would come their way. Jesus showed mercy to them by cloaking His message.

Jesus was always in control.

Monday: The One Story to Bind Them

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 2 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The intent of this series is not to improve our teaching methods, but to show how His methods revealed His nature. The series will work its way through these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story That Tells It All

You can get to any of the available lessons by clicking on the lesson title.

Offending the Mind to Reveal the heart

Jesus spoke as one having authority. In His dealings with people, this had a curious side effect. He never allowed anyone to judge Him or His words. As you read through the gospel accounts you will find situations where someone or some group attempted to give Jesus cause to defend Himself. He never allowed it. To judge the correctness of His words or teaching was to place yourself in authority over Him. He never permitted anyone to do it. Indeed, how He received you was often determined by your attitude. Jesus was always in control of His situation, and he often deliberately created offense to achieve His purposes. That is what I will explore in this lesson. To begin, Jesus cautioned us not to take offense at Him:

Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. (Matthew 11:4-6, The Net Bible)

Why would Jesus caution us about taking offense, if He did not intend to stir things up?

Jesus Offended His Home Town

As you read the following account, notice how the town-folk became the judge of Jesus' teaching, although they were nice about it. Then notice how Jesus deliberately offended them:

Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind,to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” All were speaking well of him, and were amazed at the gracious words coming out of his mouth. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus said to them, “No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great famine over all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, forced him out of the town, and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But he passed through the crowd and went on his way. So he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. (Luke 4:16-31)

Jesus rarely was so direct in proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah that Israel had hoped for. The response of His hometown was that "people spoke well of him." They still remembered little "Yeshi" who grew up among them. Although they were polite, they missed the point and they missed Him. By speaking well, they spoke down. He then not only rebuked them, but stirred up latent racial hatred. He spoke of the widows in Israel, but how Elijah only gave help to a Gentile woman. He spoke of the lepers in Israel, but how Elisha only healed a Gentile man. He stripped them of their politeness and revealed how far they were from accepting Him as their Messiah. Jesus blew their cover away and they tried to kill Him. He offended their minds and revealed their hearts.

Jesus Offended His Disciples

The Jews take seriously the command of God forbidding eating the blood of an animal:

And you must not eat any blood of the birds or the domesticated land animals in any of the places where you live. Any person who eats any blood, that person will be cut off from his people.’” (Leviticus 7:26-27)

 Kosher meat is from an animal, whose throat is cut so that its blood can be completely drained. Keep this in mind as you read this from the gospel of John:

(Jesus)"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 

Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” 

When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” 

After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. (John 6:51-66) 

Jesus spoke these words shortly after feeding the 5000 men and their families. The people wanted to make Him king and enjoy the welfare state He could provide. They wanted another meal, but Jesus wanted them to know about Himself. Note in this passage how strongly Jesus presses His point, "my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink." Not only is this strange, and sick, but it is seemingly blasphemous. Not only did the crowd have a problem, but many of His disciples did as well. Jesus asked them, "Does this cause you to be offended?" Not once did Jesus suggest that He intended His words to be taken allegorically. So, many of them answered, "Yes it does, thank you very much!" And they left.

By creating an offense, He weeded out many disciples who were not really with Him. However, Peter, speaking for himself and the others, showed that His faith in Jesus saw through the offense:

So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” (John 6:67-69)

Peter, in effect, said, "Lord, I don't know why you did what you just did. But I have no where else to go, and I trust you."

Those who judged Jesus' words left, those who trusted Him stayed. By creating the offense, Jesus revealed hearts. I have some more stories to relate, but I want to state here an important lesson for us. Jesus will create offense today. When He does so, we can either submit and know Him better or reject and know Him less. The offense is a test of our hearts. We need to recognize the flaw that it reveals, trust Him, humble ourselves, and learn His ways.

The Jerusalem Delegation and Its Fallout

This is about how opportunity came knocking and Jesus slammed the door in its face. Luke records this for us:

Now on one of those days, while he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting nearby (who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem), and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Then some men showed up, carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus. But since they found no way to carry him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the roof tiles right in front of Jesus. 

When Jesus saw their faith he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” 

Then the experts in the law and the Pharisees began to think to themselves, “Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 

When Jesus perceived their hostile thoughts, he said to them, “Why are you raising objections within yourselves? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralyzed man—“I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher and go home.” Immediately he stood up before them, picked up the stretcher he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all, and they glorified God. They were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen incredible things today.” (Luke 5:17-26)

The Pharisees and teachers of the law "had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem." Word had come to them about a new Messiah candidate. From what they had heard, this one showed promise. Lepers had been coming to the temple to offer the sacrifices for their cures. They had heard reports of healing and deliverance. Among themselves, they decided to check him out. This was the team that had come together to certify Jesus as the Messiah. This was His opportunity to be proclaimed by the establishment as "The One."

Let your imagination run a little bit and think how this story would have played out if Jesus had either quietly forgiven the young man's sins or had healed him first and then forgiven him. If He had healed the man first, the attention of the acceptance committee would have been diverted from the issue of His "uttering blasphemes." By forgiving first, Jesus deliberately created offense and, in doing so, led the committee to ask the ask the critical questions, "Who is this man?" and "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" They so focused on the blasphemy that they missed the healing as evidence that would answer their questions. In the offense, Jesus invited them to acknowledge Him as their Lord and Messiah. Unfortunately, the offense won the day and they rejected Him.

Jesus Offended His Own Mother

One more incident:

Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came. Standing outside, they sent word to him, to summon him. A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you.” He answered them and said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who were sitting around him in a circle, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Jesus' mother had come to fetch Him, because word had got out that He was acting crazy (Mark 3:21). Jesus countered that His family were those who know and do the will of God. He no longer belonged to Mary and her other sons. Jesus' words must have been a blow to her.

Offense as Mercy

Jesus did not offend to drive away, but to correct and bring close.

  • His neighbors said, "Our favorite son..."
  • His mother said, "My son..."
  • His brothers said, "Our brother..."
  • The rulers said, "Do you teach right doctrine?"
  • Today people say, "He is a great teacher."

Jesus says, "If you remain in that understanding, you will die in your sins. I am your Lord!"  We need to get to where Peter was and able to say, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”

Friday: A Cloaking Device

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Jesus' Teaching Methods

This is part 1 of a series that examines the methods Jesus used to teach His disciples and the multitudes. The intent of this series is not to improve our teaching methods, but to show how His methods revealed His nature. The series will work its way through these topics:

  1. Teaching as One with Authority
  2. Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart
  3. A Cloaking Device
  4. One Story That Tells It All

Teaching as One with Authority

I am a layman, not a pastor, priest, or reverend. Occasionally, I teach during the main service on my home church here in Kennesaw, GA. More often, I teach at a church in Richardson, TX. As some might say, a prophet has no honor in his home town. I am considered a good teacher. But here is an interesting fact: If I taught like Jesus taught, neither of these churches would ask me back. Jesus had a dimension to His teaching that goes beyond conventional. you can get a hint of what I mean with Matthew's record of the crowd's reaction to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount:

When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like their experts in the law. (Matthew 7:28-29, The Net Bible)

Matthew notes that  Jesus spoke "like one who had authority." This is different from speaking authoritatively or teaching from an authoritative source. He spoke from and for Himself. Looking back on the Sermon on the Mount, it is easy to see what the crowd saw and heard:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Note this little prepositional phrase Jesus used "on account of me." Leave this phrase out, and it is a teaching that anybody can give. Leave it in, and you have a choice to make about the teacher. It forces you to come to terms with who He claims to be. Jesus equated being persecuted for righteousness with being persecuted on account of Himself. He said that to be persecuted on account of Him would mean having a great reward in heaven--which implies that it was His to give. This is bold! What if a teacher in your church said this? How would you react? Now think about this, the crowds did not yet really know who Jesus was! Do not think that it was easier for them because they lived in such times.

Let's look at another:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Would you accept a teacher who quoted Scripture and then put his own words on equal footing. Jesus implicitly claimed to have the authority to do so. Besides putting His own words on equal footing with Scripture, Jesus claimed prophetic fulfillment in real time. In other words, he claimed that many Scriptures talked about Him:

Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read. (Luke 4:16-21)

Even that was tame compared to the next two quotes:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:58)

Many would like to tell us that Jesus was a "great teacher." Such a sentiment is nonsense. His teachings are full of Himself. A good teacher in a church has these characteristics:

  • The Scriptures, not the teacher, are the authority.
  • He may use secondary authorities to communicate generally accepted doctrines.
  • Research and reflection seek to present truth with little injection of error.
  • There are often legitimate different points of view that he should acknowledge.

Jesus on the other hand spoke like this:

  • It says 'this' in the Bible, but I have some extra things to say about it, and they are just as important.
  • Whole sections of the Old Testament were written about me. Don't forget that the holidays you've been celebrating all these centuries are all about me too.
  • My teachings are going to be around long after the universe ends.
  • I exist at all moments of time.
  • I am the most important person that you will ever meet.

Because we know the end of the story, it is easy to miss how hard it might have been, for those first hearers, to discern whether Jesus was for real or dangerous. What criteria could you use? Remember that the leading authorities accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. In the light of Jesus teaching about Himself, how sure could one be back then that the leaders did not have Him pegged? Who would I be to say otherwise?

Many are familiar with C. S. Lewis' apologetic that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity)

You have been able to see first-hand what C. S. Lewis meant by "sort of things Jesus said." They were outlandish for a mere mortal to speak, much less get away with. He had followers because He backed up with what He said by character and by power. Without those things, there would be no story today.

Thursday: Offending the Mind to Reveal the Heart

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Music: Through the Ages and in the Bible

This is part 2 of a series that looks at music. You can start at the beginning by clicking here.

Note: An audio of this teaching is available from the Biblical Studies Foundation. Click here to listen.

As mentioned yesterday, history is full of condemnation for new musical styles that today seem fine. Today, I want to look at music in the Scriptures. There is no letter of Paul or any succinct instruction on this topic. Rather we must read and gain insight from its use.

Music Helps Us Connect with God's Presence

Here is an interesting passage in 2 Kings about this:

Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here that we might seek the Lord’s direction?” One of the servants of the king of Israel answered, “Elisha son of Shapat is here; he used to be Elijah’s servant.” Jehoshaphat said, “The Lord speaks through him.” So the king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom went down to visit him. Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Why are you here? Go to your father’s prophets or your mother’s prophets!” The king of Israel replied to him, “No, for the Lord is the one who summoned these three kings so that he can hand them over to Moab.” Elisha said, “As certainly as the sovereign Lord lives (whom I serve), if I did not respect King Jehoshaphat of Judah, I would not pay attention to you or acknowledge you.” But now, get me a musician.” When the musician played, the Lord energized him, (2 Kings 3:11-15, The Net Bible)

The Hebrew behind "The Lord energized him" is "The hand of the Lord came upon Him." Note in this text that Elisha asks for a musician as a prelude to hearing from the Lord. Some translations indicate that this musician played the harp. As he played and possibly sang, Elisha connected with God's presence and heard His voice. Another example of the opposite kind comes from 1 Samuel and is a more familiar story:

So Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is out with the sheep. So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a container of wine, and a young goat and sent them to Saul with his son David. David came to Saul and stood before him. Saul liked him a great deal, and he became his armor bearer. Then Saul sent word to Jesse saying, “Let David be my servant, for I like him.” So whenever the spirit from God would come upon Saul, David would take his lyre and play it. This would bring relief to Saul and make him feel better. Then the evil spirit would leave him alone. (1 Samuel 16:19-23)

Here music nullifies the effect of a spirit that tormented Saul.

Our Creator has wired us to respond to music. Evidently, the playing of music can help our spirits connect with Him and be better able to worship. For those of you looking for hints about what forms Godly music can assume, these passages indicate soft stringed playing. This is soft intimate music that drives out the clutter of the left brain.

Music Provides Instruction

King David, himself a musician, established music as part of worship:

David and the army officers selected some of the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to prophesy as they played stringed instruments and cymbals. The following men were assigned this responsibility: From the sons of Asaph: Zakkur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Asarelah. The sons of Asaph were supervised by Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision. From the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah—six in all, under supervision of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied as he played a harp, giving thanks and praise to the Lord. From the sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamti-Ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Machazioth. All these were the sons of Heman, the king’s prophet. God had promised him these sons in order to make him prestigious. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All of these were under the supervision of their fathers; they were musicians in the Lord’s temple, playing cymbals and stringed instruments as they served in God’s temple. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the supervision of the king. They and their relatives, all of them skilled and trained to make music to the Lord, numbered 288. (1 Chronicles 25:1-7)

These musicians were skilled and trained. They performed with harps and cymbals, and they prophesied, gave thanks, and praised the Lord in their music. They seemed to have included men and women. They were supervised. Much of the prophetic singing would have been instructional as far as God and His nature go.

We can add to the list of acceptable parameters that Godly music can include multiple singers, multiple instruments, and can include cymbals. This implies rhythm.

Music Instills Courage

For this we go to 2 Chronicles again:

Then some Levites, from the Kohathites and Korachites, got up and loudly praised the Lord God of Israel. Early the next morning they marched out to the Desert of Tekoa. When they were ready to march, Jehoshaphat stood up and said: “Listen to me, you people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the Lord your God and you will be safe! Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win.” He met with the people and appointed musicians to play before the Lord and praise his majestic splendor. As they marched ahead of the warriors they said: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his loyal love endures.” (2 Chronicles 20:19-21)

The people of Judah faced and enemy and their king used music to lift their spirits and instill courage in their hearts. The musicians marched in front of the soldiers as all marched to the battlefield.

We already know that Godly music can be soft. Now we know that it can be loud and majestic. The musicians "loudly praised" and were appointed to "praise His majestic splendor."

Here is another example of instilling courage:

The crowd joined the attack against them, and the magistrates tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had beaten them severely, they threw them into prison and commanded the jailer to guard them securely. Receiving such orders, he threw them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the rest of the prisoners were listening to them. (Acts 16:22-25)

Paul and Silas did not know what would happen, but they sang to God in the prison. This helped them focus on who God is and that He was the source of their strength and courage.

We also see that Godly music does not require instruments.

Music is for Praise and Worship

This is probably an obvious point and the Scriptures have much to say about it. My favorite is Psalm 150:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary! Praise him in the sky, which testifies to his strength! Praise him for his mighty acts! Praise him for his surpassing greatness! Praise him with the blast of the horn! Praise him with the lyre and the harp! Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing! Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute! Praise him with loud cymbals! Praise him with clanging cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Godly music can be loud and crashing. It can use loud instruments. People can dance as part of praise.

Worship and Praise are different. We praise God for His deeds and worship the Person behind those deeds. Praise lifts the head, raises the hands, and taps the foot. Worship bows the head and bends the knee.

Psalm 150 mentions dancing. So does Exodus 15:20,21 where Miriam led the women in a dance of praise. Perhaps this was a flowing graceful dance. But David makes it clear that dance may be very energetic:

David was told, “The Lord has blessed the family of Obed-Edom and everything he owns because of the ark of God.” So David went and joyfully brought the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David. Those who carried the ark of the Lord took six steps and then David sacrificed an ox and a fatling calf. Now David, wearing a linen ephod, was dancing with all his strength before the Lord. David and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord, shouting and blowing trumpets.As the ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Saul’s daughter Michal looked out the window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him.

David danced with all his strength amidst shouting and blowing trumpets. He had to take off his outer garments because he got into a sweat. His wife Michal did not like what she saw and came down on David for it. To this David replied, “It was before the Lord. I was celebrating before the Lord, who chose me over your father and all his house and appointed me as leader over the Lord’s people Israel. I am willing to shame and humiliate myself even more than this!"

So Godly music does not always have to be dignified.

Here, then are the Biblical parameters of Godly music:

  • The dynamic range is soft to very loud
  • The mood and spirit can be from mourning to mayhem
  • The participation is from personal to corporate
  • The head can be lifted or bowed
  • We can have concerts and sing-a-longs
  • We can sit still or dance a whirly-gig
  • It can be old and it can be new

Very little is left out.

We should seek to broaden our tastes and realize that God has made His people a diverse lot. Musical styles that will bring tears of joy and great response to God in one person might leave another cold. That is OK. New music will come along all the time. It will always sound strange at first, but familiarity will bring affection.

So find and sing a new song to the Lord.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Music: Through the Ages and in the Bible

Note: An audio of this teaching is available from the Biblical Studies Foundation. Click here to listen.

I put together these thoughts some time ago when I realized how controversial music can be among Christians. I have come across those who say that the New Testament clearly teaches that we are never to sing with instrumental accompaniment. There is a prominent seminar speaker who teaches, in great detail, those musical elements that are godly and which are not. I have heard that acoustical instruments are OK, but not amplified. In my own church the issue was whether worship was exclusively participatory or whether it was OK to hilight the talent of someone who sang a worship song most people could not sing. In other words, can someone listen and worship?

Now I come blessed with very broad musical tastes. I do not know whether this is an advantage or disadvantage with the subject at hand. It does appear that people tend to universalize their musical preferences as being the style preferred by God. You must decide, in this study, whether I am universalizing broad musical tastes as the standard.

Music Controversy is Not New

New music has always had its detractors, secular and otherwise. The earliest comment on Christian music that I have found comes from Saint Augustine, who had this to say

When I remember the tears I shed at the psalmody of Thy church, when I first recovered my faith, and how even now I am moved not by the singing but by what is sung, when it is sung with a clear voice and apt melody, I then acknowledge the great usefulness of this custom. Thus I hesitate between dangerous pleasure and approved wholesomeness, though I am inclined to approve of the use of singing in the church (yet I would not pronounce an irrevocable opinion upon the subject), so that the weaker minds may be stimulated to devout thoughts by the delights of the ear. Yet when I happen to be moved more by the singing than by what is sung, I confess to have sinned grievously, and then I wish I had not heard the singing.

Who would have thought that there have been periods in church history when the very presence of music would be questioned. Who would have thought that being moved more by the melody rather than the words should be considered sin. The earliest musical ideas were that

  • Music was the servant of religion. It opened the mind to Christian teachings and should direct the mind to holy thoughts
  • Christian music was to be decidedly different from the world's music
What is interesting is that we do not know what music in Augustine's time sounded like. Out first real knowledge of worship music comes down to us with the Gregorian chants. Gregorian Chants had these characteristics:
  • No instruments
  • No harmony
  • No meter (i.e. no discernable rhythm)
  • No participation
  • Latin Only
  • Meditative in tone

You can see, and I encourage you to locate and hear, how these characteristics bolstered the church's sense of what music was to be.

In the twelfth century a musical style called Organum challenged the foundation of sound Christian music by introducing simple two part harmony. Through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, this trend continued. Some thought these changes scandalous. Jacques de Liege had this to say

In a certain company in which some able singers and judicious laymen were assembled, and where modern motets in the modern manner and some old ones were sung, I observed that even the laymen were better pleased with the ancient motets and the ancient manner than with the new, And even if the new manner pleased, when it was a novelty, it does so no longer, but begins to displease many. So let the ancient music and the ancient manner of singing be brought back to their native land; let them come back into use; let the rational art once more flourish. It has been in exile, along with the corresponding method of singing, as if violently cast out from the fellowship of singers, but violence should not be perpetual. Wherein does this studied lasciviousness in singing so greatly please, by which, as some think, the words are lost, the harmony of consonances is diminished, the value of the notes is changed, perfection is brought low, imperfection is exalted, and measure is confounded?

Jacques de Liege is referring to singing in harmonic parts. Musical instruments were still a century away.

In the fifteenth century, musical instruments could be heard lightly playing in the background. Meter also became part of musical tradition. We could now lasciviously tap out feet. In the sixteenth century, someone got the idea of mulitpart singing. Bernadino Cirillo had this to say about that

You know how much music was valued among those good ancients as the finest of the fine arts. With it they worked great effects that today we do not, either with rhetoric or oratory, in controlling the passions and affections of the soul.... I see and hear the music of today, which is said to have arrived at an ultimate refinement and perfection such as never was or could be known before. Yet I do not hear or see any part of those ancient modes.... Today all such things are sung in a promiscuous and uncertain genus.... In short, when a Mass is sung in church, I should like the music to consist of certain harmonies and rhythms apt at moving our sentiments to religion and piety according to the meaning of the words, ... Today every effort and diligence is bent on making a work in strict fugue so that when one says "Sanctus," another pronounces "Sabaoth," while a third sings "Gloria tua," with certain wails, bellows, and bleating that at times they sound like cats in January....

And so it goes on. With the reformation, came Christian music in the common tongue instead of Latin. The congregation began to sing instead of just listen. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his "Coffee Cantata" and became the first known cross over musician. No wonder he drew fire

This great man (J. S. Bach) would be the admiration of whole nations if he had more amenity, if he did not take away the natural element in his pieces by giving them a turgid and confused style, and if he did not darken their beauty by an excess of art. Since he judges according to his own fingers, his pieces are extremely difficult to play; for he demands that singers and instrumentalists should be able to do with their throats and instruments whatever he can play on the clavier. But this is impossible. Every ornament, every little grace, and everything that one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing, he expresses completely in notes; and this not only takes away from his pieces the beauty of harmony but completely covers the melody throughout. All the voices must work with each other and be of equal difficulty, and none of them can be recognized as the principal voice.

We do not know who made this comment.

By now you should have a historical perspective on Christian music. I could take many of the detracting comments I have quoted and publish them today. Here is what is interesting. I could only attach them to some of today's music. I can no longer attach them to the music for which they were written. Here then is what history teaches us about this matter:

  • Musical styles change all the time.
  • Each change has its defenders and detractors.
  • The past is remembered and enjoyed, but it is never returned to.
  • Defining Godly music is a slippery task. Most often the definer begins with personal tastes
  • Ancient comments are modern comments. Music moves from controversy to acceptance to old and tired.
  • On the other hand, early adopters of new music may have the wrong motives. (Note I said "may have" and not "have")

Does the Bible have anything to say about music. Although there is no book about music in the Bible, we can glean quite a bit. Indeed, I am about to reveal a precise set of parameters defining Godly music based on what the Bible has to say.

Tuesday: Music in the Bible.