Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beholding His Love

Let the reader know that I am not against choruses.  Even though I have made my fair share of 7-11 jokes about songs that have just seven words and are repeated eleven times, I must confess that there are many modern choruses that I do enjoy and sing because I believe that they honor the Lord in their content and form.  However, I must also say that too many of these songs are simply too weak and somehow fail to uphold that root idea of worship in the English (from the Old English - word-scipe [ship] - i.e., delivering to God words that are worthy of His glory).  I do find that many of these songs will often say too little in order to fulfill the Lord's standard whereby He seeks worshippers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  It's this content-of-truth issue that is often sacrificed at the altar of simplicity and brevity.  As I preach through the Scriptures, I often recall to mind those little ditties that are popular within the Christian community, but that fail to unpack the full context of their Scriptural message.  Some I will use, others I avoid; but as I am now preaching through 1 John 3:1, that familiar chorus was brought to my attention - you all know it I'm sure:

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

That we should be called the sons of God

That we should be called the sons of God

I like this song - who couldn't?  It's Scripture - 1 John 3:1.  Or I should say that it is 1 John 3:1a.  That "a" designation means that the song only covers the first part of 1 John 3:1 - and that is actually problematic because, biblically speaking, 1 John 3:1 is a kind of bridge which reveals to the reader the knowledge that leads to godliness.  His chain of thought actually begins in 1 John 2:29 (yes, you'll need to ignore the uninspired chapter divisions for a minute for this one).  His emphasis on knowledge should be quite clear within the overall progression:

1 John 2:29-3:10: 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

The reason why a chorus that is based upon 1 John 3:1a is weak, is because it is derived from too small a portion of Scripture - one that is utterly dependent upon a much broader argument.  In other words, our ability to behold the full measure of God's love is really dependent upon the surrounding argument concerning the Christian's true knowledge of Jesus Christ the Righteous:

1.  That Christ is Righteous (1 John 2:29-3:2a).  He makes us righteous through his righteous advocacy and propitiation on our behalf (1 John 2:1 - imputed righteousness); by virtue of our position as justified children of God, we also know that the Lord is faithful to persevere us by conforming our lives to the pattern of Christ's righteousness.  Clearly, our sonship has both a positional as well as practical reality to it! 

2.  That Christ is Faithful (1 John 3:2b-3). He will return to take us home one day, and when He does, there will no longer by any pain, no more sorrow and no more sin - because we will be like Him.  We know that this will happen because our Savior is faithful to accomplish all that He promises to do.

3.  That Christ's Work is Effectual (1 John 3:4-10): Unlike this faithless and sinful world, Christ demonstrates His righteousness and Lordship by accomplishing His mission of "appearing in order to take away sins..."    

Nested within this threefold lesson concerning the Christian's knowledge - the knowledge that leads to godliness - is this call to behold/see all of this as the very manifestation of God's own love for us.  Thus, singing 1 John 3:1a without the basis for this praise would be like me trying to compliment my wife to others without mentioning any of her qualities or attributes.  It would be a rather shallow moment to be sure. 

All this to say - songs like this need not be tossed into the 7-11 canister.  Many of these songs can be completed by adding the Scriptural thought which they began in the first place.  Granted, my version does not incorporate the full context that I supplied above - I'm still working on it.  But it does include more of the immediate context to 1 John 3:1a.  Here is a suggested revision/addition to the aforementioned chorus, additional verses in red: 

Our Father’s Love

1 John 2:29-3:2

If you do kno-w that He is right-eous, then you will know this:

If you do kno-w that He is right-eous, then you will know this:

That all wh-o practice righteousness

Have been be-gotten o-f Him

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

That we should be called the children of God

That we should be called the children of God

 

And for this reas-on we can see that the world does not know us

And for this reas-on we can see that the world does not know us

…Be-cause, the world did not know Him

…Be-cause, the world did not know Him

 

Beloved children, we do kno-w that He shall someday appear..

Beloved children, we do kno-w that He shall someday appear..

Then we will become ju-st like Him

Be-cause we shall see Him just as He is!

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us!

That we should be called the children of God

That we should be called the children of God

I have had some rather surprising reactions from people who don't think that these songs should be modified.  However, I would rather that they be more disturbed by the abbreviated treatment of God's Word that is so prevalent in our culture today.  God is worthy of our praise - much more than we can even realize.  We will do well if we praise Him with the depth and substance of His Word.  As some say, "Brevity is the soul of wit."  Yes, but when it comes to worshipping the God of the Universe, I find that such brevity is very rarely the soul of substance.