The post heading is from a children’s song we used to sing in Sunday School. If you are not familiar with it you can learn about it here. The song teaches children basic Christian discernment while also teaching them anatomy by pointing to the parts of their body they need to be careful with, such as ears, eyes, and mind. As I was thinking about the words to the song, it occurred to me just how deep they really go. We are to be careful with what we hear, see, think about and so forth. But do we carry it too far, or not far enough?
I was prompted theologically to write this post based on some past comments presented on this blog. I have also petitioned some of my fellow bloggers and church elders concerning this subject matter. Since I write about music as much as anything else culturally on this blog, I will focus on that medium in this post. In past discussions I have participated in with other Christians concerning the secular medium of connecting culturally, the basis of discernment has surrounded Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.(ESV)
But are we using this verse correctly? We have a tendency as Christians to want to create a list of dos and don’ts. Much like filling in the gray area not covered by the Ten Commandments. Like a fellow believing blogger, I would say the scope of this verse and context is much broader. Is Paul instructing us to only consume the medium labeled “Christian” as many folks have thought? Should we not watch sporting events like football of hockey then? Should we only listen to hymns and Contemporary Christian music? Should we only read Christian publications? I don’t think Paul is instructing us this way. I believe, as do many others I petitioned, that Phil. 4:8 is more of a list of exhortations rather than a list of things to avoid. But there are other passages in scripture that do deal with what we consume.
1 Corinthians 6:12 tells us:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.(ESV)
The apostle Paul writes that we do have freedom in Christ, but there is a potential to abuse that freedom and be enslaved by it. We have the freedom to listen to many forms of secular music, from Thrash Metal to Hip Hop, and Country. But there is the potential to consume so much of the blatantly anti-Christ, anti-moral stuff that we could become enslaved to it. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 it says we are to flee immorality. Will what we listen to, evoke imaginations that will arouse lust? It may, or it may not at all. Someone might just listen to a Thrash Metal song and stir up imaginations of violence, and in others imaginations of pumping iron. Can we listen to a song because we like the music even though the lyrics are not glorifying to God at all? These are all good question to consider as we look at the grace of God and the freedom we have in Christ.
Let’s look at some more scripture as we consider these questions. 1 Corinthians 10:23-31 tells us:
23 All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, This has been offered in sacrifice, then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience. 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.(ESV)
We can apply this to what we consume in the way of music as well. Everything we listen to is lawful but not all of what we listen to is helpful. Each one of us has a conscience and if we feel compelled to abstain from certain forms of music or certain lyrics then we should listen to our conscience. But in turn we should not determine what we can or cannot listen to by someone else’s conscience.
I think this is time to bring to light what is found in Romans 14. It addresses the degree of strength each believer has as it applies to what he consumes. Based on the context of this very helpful passage we can apply it to anything we might consume, such as music. One person may believe he or she can listen to anything while the weaker believer might believe he can only listen to contemporary Christian music. But the passage also teaches us that one should not sit in judgment of the other based on their personal conviction or preference. I would encourage everyone to re-read this amazing section of scripture.
I would like to conclude with a bit of a qualifier. By this posting I am not giving you license to listen to any form of debauchery in the form of music. If this kind of music stirs up some ungodly images or feeds some form of vice or lust within you, you probably should be abstaining from that music. I also believe that this medium of music, like the visual medium can desensitize us to sin and it’s offensiveness. If we listen to enough music that treats women like property or pieces of meat then you may begin to be affected by this and treat them the same way. Music is a very strong persuader. Why do you think advertisers use it to sell products? As a friend and fellow believer put it, we need to know God. We know him by reading and studying His word. We also need to be honest with ourselves. We know what our bent in things are. If we believe to be a sin to us, then it probably is. But if we take the total freedom route, we need to be testing, and honing our discernment skills as we live out lives.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Contributors: Chris, Dave, Jacob, Jim, Seth, Travis, and Tyler.
February 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm
Barry, what a great post! If we isolate ourselves in a *Christian Zone* we will not be relevant or helpful to reach out to others. The Holy Spirit enables us to function within the world. We do need to be careful not to grieve the Spirit with our poor choices, but if we are sensitive to His voice, all things are permissible. The gift of God is freedom, not slavish loyalty to rules that don’t change the inside.
I am a great believer in carefully choosing edifying exposures. I don’t watch R movies, I don’t enjoy hard rock or gratuitous sex and violence in books, and choose not to listen to degrading language. I don’t normally drink alcohol, although don’t mind a sip of wine or beer. It’s not that I am not *allowed* to do these things, just that they are not appealing to me. There is so much wisdom in Paul’s injunction to think upon the good and true and noble things.
February 2, 2009 at 5:28 pm
Thanks for the comment Amy. It is indeed a blessing to enjoy the freedoms we have along with the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide each of us to glorify Christ.
February 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm
I like the post and I think it address what people need to consider in their life. I might add that Romans 14 would more correctly address the mode of musical expression than any rock song. I think there is liberty within the realm of musical style but I don’t think it applies to certain Rock tunes. For example, some people don’t want to listen to music with a heavy metal or rap style beat. In this particular area, I think there is freedom. However, I don’t think Romans 14 applies in the case of Alice in Chain’s song “man in the box”. After becoming a Christian, I couldn’t listen to this song because it blasphemed Jesus Christ. I don’t believe any believer should listen to lyrics that blaspheme their Lord and Savior. Therefore, it isn’t an issue of freedom but an issue of worship.
Now about the tunes that are secular and nonreligious……
there should be freedom and wisdom
February 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm
Thanks for the comment. You always have something interesting to add to the dialog. Your encouragement and wisdom is always appreciated. Romans 14 has been used to refer to what we consume such as food or fine. This is the reason I have used it to consider the music we consume. I tried not to steer the article in the direction of style or preference but content. There are many evangelicals who believe that all we should be consuming in the music realm is Christian music. I would have to ask, “what exactly is Christian music?” What if the lyrics are heretical or scripturally incorrect? We should use the same wisdom and discernment with those as well.
As for the AIC song, are you sure the song is blaspheming God? I have been going over the lyrics and have read some Internet info about the meaning of the lyrics. I found several different web sites that consistently contend that Jerry Cantrell wrote the song after having met with record execs who were vegetarians and described the way young calves were treated to obtain veal. Supposedly the calf is kept in a box with it’s eyes sewn shut. I think you may be taking the lyrics out of context. How the other lyrics fit in I don’t know. I know that many musicians keep lyrics even if they don’t make sense. It provides for mystery and fan speculation.
I totally agree that with this freedom we have come wisdom and discernment.
February 22, 2009 at 1:58 am
Hey Barry and team,
The only thing I would add to this is the redeeming of time while driving. The especial (a good old world word,eh?) issue for me comes while listening to hard driving rock after a bad day at the office, or where ever, I find that that medium really facilitates vengeful thoughts. So I find myself taking precaution at such times to avoid such pitfalls.
February 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm
Thoughtful consideration taken brother. Thanks for the comment.