This is a guest post by Ryan Shelton, Worship Director at Winnetka Bible Church, Winnetka, Il.
One way to determine the value of a thing is by recognizing attempts at its forgery. A cigar labeled “Made in Mexico” certainly was, but you would be suspicious of one claiming Cuban import. So for something as valuable as Biblical masculinity, expect to find a host of imposters standing in for the real thing.
A prevalent pseudo-masculinity as old as time is the species of stoicism that treats the affections as suspect and emotion as feminine. It is especially easy for men to prize our God-given mandate to “work and keep” creation by our labor (Genesis 2:15), and view interpersonal relationships as distractions from our real purpose. But the first recorded words of the human race are Adam’s love poem upon sight of his fashioned bride (2:23). The eternal fountain of interpersonal love between Father, Son, and Spirit is the very blueprint of the image of God in man, created intrinsically relational (1:27).
Solitude is not good, according to God (1:18), and by implication it is not good for men to entertain a fantasy of isolation in their emotional lives in the presence of family and friends. The apostle Paul follows his exhortation to “act like men, and be strong” with “let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). Deep and passionate love for your wife and children, love for your friends, and love for your Heavenly Father are not the enemies of masculinity, but its proof.
If it’s true that passion for God is your duty as a Christian—as Jesus clearly taught when he singled out the call to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” as the greatest law—what can we do when we don’t? Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrestles with this question extensively in his treatise, Religious Affections. He highlights four primary means that God may use to warm our naturally cold hearts to godly love: prayer, singing, sacraments, and the preached word. The first two, prayer and singing, he calls “duties” because the activities originate from us and proceed out. The second two, sacraments and Word, are means of grace we actively receive with faith-filled expectation. For the rest of this article, I will focus on the role of singing as a habit of grace given to us by God to put to death counterfeit masculinity and heartless religion.
Singing, especially in our weekly worship gatherings, is a uniquely suited gift to help men grow in God-honoring emotions. Knowing, as men, the particular danger toward stoic living, thinking carefully about how to wield the gift of song is a great area of Christian wisdom for us to explore.
And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections. (Jonathan Edwards, Works: Vol 2, The Religious Affections, 115).
Some men may find singing to be an uncomfortable form of expression, because they do not find in themselves the affections to be expressed by loving prayers of adoration or hymns of exhortation. But I find Edwards’ insight instructive here. We don’t only sing because we feel, but we also sing in order to feel. Singing requires a great deal of physical involvement: demanding posture, deep breathing, vocal exertion, bodily energy. It has a unique capacity to take mental truths and involve our whole person in response.
Does this mean I am advocating a “fake it until you make it” approach to Christian spirituality? Not at all! There is a vast difference between passionate singing to deceive others, and participating in a spiritual discipline with prayerful expectation that God might make it so. One is hypocrisy, the other, wisdom. And as you participate in the public celebration of God’s great love for his ransomed people, your voice becomes one of the catalysts for received grace in your brothers and sisters in the assembled church. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, Sing like men: let everything you do be done in love.
Ryan Shelton (@SheltonRyan) is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He lives in the Chicagoland North Shore where he serves as the worship director of Winnetka Bible Church. He is co-author of Promised Beforehand: Readings for Advent.