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Wordwise Insight, Issue #035
November 14, 2007

WORDWISE INSIGHT is the free, informative monthly newsletter of


BIBLE INSIGHTS. The Use of Music; Handling Opposition, and more

READER Q & A. Dealing with Phobias; The Meaning of "Cut Off" in the Old Testament



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There is confusion in many congregations as to how music is to be used in the services of the church. Too often it becomes one of three things:

1) Congregational singing is an empty ritual--we sing because that's what we're supposed to do in church;

2) It becomes a tool for emotional manipulation, to generate excitement or other feelings;

3) It is used for mere entertainment.

Psalm 28:7 expresses well the place that music is to have in praise and worship. It is not for stirring up feelings from the outside, but for expressing what is already in the heart. Notice the clear progression.

1) A Basic Truth. “The Lord is my strength and shield...”

2) The Truth Believed. “My heart trusted in Him...”

3) Faith Verified. “And I am helped...”

4) The Inward Response. “Therefore my heart greatly rejoices.”

5) The Outward Expression. “And with my song I will praise Him.”

If this pattern is followed, hymn singing will mean more to participants, and it will delight the heart of God.

The Bible makes it quite clear that the saints live on enemy territory (Jn. 15:18-21; II Tim. 3:12). We can expect to be misunderstood, ridiculed, and persecuted for the cause of Christ. But Psalm 37 offers some instruction on what to do about it, and what not to do.

What Not to Do. Don’t become annoyed, anxious, or envious of the seeming success of the wicked (vs. 1, 7, 8). The prosperity of the wicked is short-lived (vs. 2, 9-10, 12-15, 20, 35-36, 38), and fretting only harms the one who frets (vs. 8).

What to Do. 1) Trust in the Lord–in His direction and the rightness of His commands–and keep on obeying Him and doing right (vs. 3, 27; cf. vs. 21, 25-26, 30-31, 32-33). 2) Possess your possessions, depending on God’s faithfulness (vs. 3, 16). 3) Delight yourself in God Himself, worshiping and praising Him (vs. 4). 4) Commit your future to the Lord and “rest,” waiting patiently for Him to act in His good time (Vs. 5, 7, 34). Ultimate justice and eternal blessing await (vs. 4-6, 9, 11, 17, 19, 22-24, 28-29, 34, 37, 39-40).

There is a pattern here. The repeated exhortation not to fret brackets a description of various aspects of faith, drawing our attention away from where it too often focuses to where it should focus.

A. Do not fret (vs. 1-2)

B. Trust (vs. 3)

C. Delight (vs. 4)

C. Commit (vs. 5-6)

B. Rest (vs. 7a)

A. Do not fret (vs. 7b-8)

On the website there is an article about discipleship called The Learner-Servant Principles. Extensively referenced to Scripture, and with many diagrams, this material will give you a unique perspective on the subject. The seven basic principles are interconnected. They show the essence of discipleship as it is revealed in God’s Word, four key things God expects of us, and how sin contrasts with the four. As well, you will gain a helpful understanding of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. The framework described can also be used to analyze passage after passage in the Bible. Please study the material, put it to use, and pass it on!

TRUTH IN OUR TRIALS. Check out the extensive outline study on the subject of suffering at Truth About Suffering.

NEW BIBLE STUDY SERIES ON PROPHECY! The subject of Bible prophecy is a fascinating one. This series of 12 discussion studies covering the major themes of prophecy will give you an opportunity to examine what God has planned for the future. To check it out, click on Prophecy Studies.


Question: Glenn asks, “Please share your thoughts about the control of phobias in the believer’s life. Are phobias a sign of sin, spiritual immaturity or a state of unregeneration?”

Answer: Psychological conditions are really beyond my area of expertise, and beyond the main focus of the website. But I'll try to give you a quick answer in any event.

You suggest three possible roots for phobias: sin, spiritual immaturity, or unregeneration (meaning, if I understand you correctly, that the person is unsaved, not a Christian). My answer would be: none of the above.

There may be times when the person is in one of these three conditions, and that can become a complicating factor. But none of them is usually the cause. A phobia is an emotional problem, not a spiritual one. (Having said that, I recognize there is a spiritual component to both emotional and physical conditions, but we are talking about root causes here.) By definition, a phobia is a persistent and irrational fear. Being irrational means it is not the result of a conscious choice, which sin is.

An example. An individual may have been attacked by a vicious dog, as a very young child. Later, in adulthood, he has a strong aversion to dogs of any kind. That is not a choice he has made. And he may not even recall the original incident. The fear is not reasoned out, nor is it the result of some moral decision to hate dogs. That is why I say such things are not basically a spiritual problem. Saved people can have phobias too. And they may even be mature believers who are walking with the Lord.

Let's compare a physical example. Suppose a fellow goes to the doctor with a backache. And after examination, the doctor concludes his main problem is his posture. So he is given some physical therapy to help strengthen the appropriate muscles. And he learns, through instruction and practice, to sit, stand and walk in a more healthy way. A similar process takes place when dealing with an unhealthy emotional condition. Phobias--fear of heights, fear of open spaces, and so on--can be unlearned by counseling and behaviour modification, if the person feels the phobia is a significant handicap.

Certainly, through prayer, God can give wisdom and support in dealing with a phobia. But normally there is what we might call an "emotional habit" that has to be unlearned. That may call for the assistance of a counselor or psychologist who has training in this area. To use the dog illustration again, perhaps, the counselor will begin by showing him pictures of dogs, and helping him to get comfortable talking about them. Then, he will have opportunities to observe dogs from a distance, gradually decreasing the distance as he feels more comfortable, and so on. Fear of airplane flights, and fear of using elevators, are handled in a similar way.

We are tripartite creatures, spirit, soul, and body (I Thess. 5:23). The Bible's word for "soul" in that text is the Greek word psuche [SOO-kee], from which we get our English word psychology. A phobia is usually (though I will not say absolutely always) due to a psychological condition, not a spiritual problem. We need to be careful not to condemn those who are struggling with emotional difficulties. Sometimes, in leaping to the conclusion that the problem is spiritual, we only make matters worse. There can be spiritual issues to deal with. But not always.

Suppose you visit a fellow in the hospital who has a broken leg. Would you raise the same question? ("Are broken legs a sign of sin, spiritual immaturity, or a state of unregeneration?") And would you determine to treat his broken leg by reading him Bible verses and calling upon him to repent? He may have broken his leg running from a bank hold-up. In that case, there would be a spiritual need, but you still have to set the leg and deal with that separately. Or he may be a godly man who broke his leg climbing into a burning building to rescue a child. But he still has to have the leg set and cared for.

Some quote Second Timothy 1:7 as proof that Christians should never have mental or emotional disorders. It says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear [timidity, cowardice], but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” The conclusion reached is that any fear must therefore be a spiritual problem. But notice what the verse does not say. It does not say Christians never have mental or emotional problems, but only that spiritual boldness comes from God.

Paul is writing to a young pastor named Timothy, exhorting him to stand firm in the faith, in the face of opposition (vs. 8; cf. 2:10; 3:12; 4:5). The subject, then, is boldness in ministry, not the treatment of phobias. The text does not rule out the possibility that an emotional disorder can be caused by a physical condition or by prior experiences. For instance, child abuse leaves emotional scars that are not the outcome of personal choice. They are the result of wicked cruelty on the part of parents or others. Committed Christians can have that kind of history too. And they may need professional help dealing with it.

Question: What is the meaning of God’s warning that He would “cut off” the Israelites that disobey His Law?

Answer: The Lord uses that particular phrase in the Old Testament Law with reference to the punishment of sinners. The words “cut off” are employed many times. For example, in Leviticus 17:10, God says, “Whatever man...who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person...and will cut him off from among his people.”

The phrase is a warning of judgment or punishment to come, but exactly what does it mean? There is uncertainty about that. Possibly there were several options and alternatives, depending on the particular case. As to whether the cutting off invariably took place following sinful behaviour, and whether it was permanent and irrevocable, are further issues. This too seems to have depended somewhat on the situation.

In some instances the “cutting off” involved physical death (Exod. 9:15; 31:14; cf. Gen. 9:11). In Leviticus 20:2-3, for the terrible sin of child sacrifice, the guilty one was to be stoned, and the Lord says “I will...cut him off from his people.” Some suggest that implies eternal punishment following his execution. But that need not be so.

Such a step (i.e. a cutting off) is also involved in what would seem to be a much lesser offense: A man having physical relations with a woman during her menstrual period (Lev. 20:18), which surely did not result in eternal damnation. It more likely has to do with ceremonial uncleanness which rendered them temporarily unable to participate in religious activities.

Another possibility, depending on the situation, is that the cutting off referred to the ending of the family line. In such cases it would mean that the individual would have no descendants, and his name and memorial would be cut off from Israel (Ruth 4:10; I Sam. 24:21).

Other times, what is implied seems to be ostracism and excommunication– that the one who is “cut off” would be excluded from the community, at least for a period of time, and be unable to worship and fellowship there. Note the wording in Leviticus 22:3. The Lord says, “...that person shall be cut off from My presence.” Under the Law, the camp of Israel was uniquely the place of the manifest presence of God. To be cut off from Israel was to be excluded from the one place on earth which God had ordained for sacrifices to be made. This punishment might also imply the removal of the person from under the protecting umbrella of God’s covenants with Israel. In such a state, he faced continuing peril (Lev. 22:3; Num. 19:13, 20).

Compare David’s plea, “Do not cast me away from Your presence” (Ps. 51:11). There is no exact equivalent of this under Grace. God’s presence is not localized in a temple, and every true believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God forever. Also, there are no continuing sacrifices to be made for sin at some central altar. But a partial parallel might be the breakdown of fellowship with God when a Christian sins, which is to be remedied by confession of that sin (I Jn. 1:5-10).

Perhaps ostracism and loss of fellowship in the community of Israel is similar to what Christ describes in Matthew 18:17, “If he [the unrepentant sinner] refuses to hear the church [the assembly of believers] let him be to you like a heathen [a Gentile] and a tax collector [men viewed as traitors to their nation]” (cf. I Cor. 5:9-13). And there may be a parallel to Paul’s reference to delivering an individual to Satan that he may be prompted and prodded to change his ways (I Cor. 5:5; I Tim. 1:20). The umbrella of blessing and protection is removed. There is danger of temporal chastisement as a result, but it is not a hopeless situation if there is repentance and an appeal is made to the grace and mercy of God.

NEXT MONTH: How to plan a Community Hymn Sing.

SEEKING A NEW PASTOR for your church? Check out the Pastoral Questionnaire.

BIBLE STUDY: Available now on the Wordwise website is a discussion Bible study on The Lord's Prayer. Why not check it out at The Lord's Prayer.



The other day, as a little project, I decided to find out how many times the Bible talks about the subject of “joy.” With the help of a computer, I traced the various words found in our English Bibles--joy, rejoicing, gladness, delight, and so on. Such terms are used over 700 times! Not unexpectedly, the book of Psalms accounts for many occurrences. Praise and celebration are a dominant theme of the book.

Nearly three centuries ago, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote a joyful paraphrase of Psalm 98 that he called “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” We know it as the carol, “Joy to the World.” Though it is traditionally sung at the Christmas season, the psalm concerns Christ’s second coming, when He will return to set up His earthly reign. The psalm calls upon all nature to rejoice at the prospect. “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises....Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity” (Ps. 98:4, 8-9).

For the Christian, Christ’s coming and return are certainly cause for rejoicing--especially as we see the way things are going in this old world. But the subject most often associated with joy, again in the book of Psalms, is God’s salvation--and by extension, rejoicing in God Himself for what He has done in saving us. That is how the joy at the Christ’s coming is experienced at a personal level.

A few examples will suffice. “Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, ‘The Lord be magnified!’” (Ps. 40:16). “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart” (Ps. 32:11). “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1). “My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You, and my soul, which You have redeemed” (Ps. 71:23).

For those who profess to be Christians to live glum and joyless lives is a contradiction. It may mean they are not saved at all--even though they think they are, or say they are. (They need converting.) Or, on the other hand, it could be they are truly born again but have not realized all the multiplied blessings that brings. (They need some coaching.) Or, it might be they are saved, but sin has hindered their fellowship with God. (They need confession--Ps. 51:12; I Jn. 1:9).

One who found himself in the first category, many years ago, was a man named Edward Cottrill (my grandfather). Though a religious man all his life, he had never understood that he needed to turn from self and sin and make a personal commitment to Christ. But one day the “whoever believes in Him” of John 3:16 dawned on him, he trusted in Christ as his only Saviour and was wonderfully saved.

From that day forward, the joy of God’s salvation just bubbled up in Ed Cottrill’s soul, and overflowed in his life. He wanted to tell everyone what the Lord had done for him, and urge them to come to Christ too. He founded a little mission in Ontario which he called the “Joy to the World Mission.”

In every service he called upon those gathered to sing Watts’s hymn! “Joy to the world! The Lord is come; / Let earth receive her King. / Let every heart prepare Him room, / And heav’n and nature sing.” Little wonder that people began calling him “Joy to the World Cottrill.” Joy had transformed his heart, and shaped his service for the Lord. So it should be for each of us.

THE BEST BIBLE STUDY TOOL EVER. At least, the best one I have ever discovered, is fully described on the website. Strictly speaking, this is not an idea for your church program but for you, personally. However, if you try it, you may want to share it with your Sunday School class or Bible study group. If a number of you begin using it and trading insights, you may be amazed at what will happen! See Best Bible Study Tool.

Is your church thinking of purchasing A NEW HYMN BOOK? Check out Choosing a Hymnal for Your Church on the website, for nearly three dozen excellent tips and ideas to help you make your choice.

Check out EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY, a Wordwise Bible study series to help seekers, or new Christians! A wonderful "review" for long-time believers as well! The free 10-part series is now available at Exploring Christianity.

If you have a question or an idea to share, please go to the Wordwise website and use the question form.
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