Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Self Control in Worship

Self control is a commendable trait, a characteristic we ought to pursue (2 Peter 1:5-7) but which ultimately is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and therefore comes to us by grace. Self control is mentioned only 13 times in the NIV, with more than half of those coming in Paul's pastoral epistles to Timothy and Titus, for the instructions of appointing deacons and elders. These men are to exhibit self control. It is mentioned 18 times in the ESV, and one of the places we find a difference in translation between the NIV and ESV is 1 Corinthians 9:25. See v24-27 for the context:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."

Paul says, as an athlete in training, we are to exhibit self control in all things. What does self-control look like? Paul shows us in this passage. He first says what it is not: aimless, beating the air. Then he says it looks like discipline and keeping the body under control.

I realize that all of life is worship, but how does this imagery of self control apply to corporate worship, namely in the singing portion of a typical church service?

2 SAMUEL 6:16 says, "As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart."

We see that David was leaping and dancing before the Lord. Was he exhibiting self control? Some would say absolutely yes; others would say absolutely no. Still others would say that he was being led by the Spirit. Perhaps there is no way to know. But Michal, his wife - though only called "daughter of Saul" in this passage - obviously didn't care for his apparent lack of propriety. She "despised him in her heart."

David was worshipping God. He wasn't leaping and dancing for his own benefit, nor was he leaping and dancing for the benefit of the servants and general population around him. He was leaping adn dancing for the Lord. And whether or not he exhibited self control, his actions weren't sinful. How is your attitude toward those who worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth? I'm not one to clap or raise my hands in corporate worship, but I don't want to stifle those who exhibit such behavior. I certainly don't want to have the attitude of Michal. Look what happens next:

2 SAMUEL 6:20-23 says, "When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, 'How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!' David said to Michal, 'It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone else from hs house when He appointed me ruler over the Lord's people Israel - I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.' And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death."

David says, "My actions weren't for anyone else, but only for the Lord." Could we apply Paul's teaching on the use of tongues here? If so, wouldn't it have been better for David to avoid offending those around him by engaging in this type of rumpus worship in private?

I regularly dance around to worship songs in the privacy of my home, oftentimes with my children. And if my behavior was for you, then you ought to join me on a long car ride, because I really pour out my heart when singing praises on a drive. But I don't dance when others are around, and I don't shout while driving with others in the car. Am I exhibiting self control? Or am I being a hypocrit? Am I seeking to avoid offending others? Or am I hiding my light under a bushel?

To paraphrase David's final response to Michal, he says, "I don't care what you think of my leaping and dancing before the Lord, and I don't even care what I think, because He is worthy of praise. If the Spirit takes over my body and humiliates me before the world, so be it. It is for God. And by the way, when others realize this truth, they'll honor me in that."

And the barenness of Michal is her shame; we might conclude that David never spoke to her again. So again, the application for us might be to guard our attitude about the worship of others; allow the Spirit to work in others as you allow Him to work in you. Self control just might better be rendered, at least in our understanding of it, as Spirit control.

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