Christian Rap: Sharp Disagreements and the Sovereignty of God
Christian rap artist Illijam penned a wonderful editorial/devotional that sheds some light on how disagreements were handled in the Bible. This article was inspired by Shai Linne’s “Random Thoughts 3” and the ongoing dialogue it’s caused about Lecrae, Reach Records, and the response by Ruslan and the Christian hip-hop community alike.
As I’ve reflected upon the conversation stirred amongst Christians who create & consume Hip-Hop music by Shai Linne’s “Still Jesus,” I was reminded of a passage of Scripture that fanned the flame of my hope and snuffed out any temptation to despair over our differences:
“And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’ Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” Acts 15:36-41.
We see here that there once arose an intense argument between two of our forefathers in the faith. Paul and Barnabas, as sincerely and singularly concerned with the spread of the Gospel as two sinners can be, were engaged in a heated dispute about who should accompany them on a missionary journey.
Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along, and Paul was vehemently opposed to the idea due to Mark perhaps prematurely, though definitely controversially, leaving a prior missionary journey early (Acts 13:13). Let’s not skim over the significance of the phrase ‘sharp disagreement’ in verse 39. So severe was their falling-out that these two dear friends, co-laborers in the Gospel, and brothers-in-Christ went their separate ways, Paul choosing Silas and Barnabas choosing Mark for their now-separate missionary endeavors. Their passion for Jesus and the spread of the Gospel, however, remained the same.
And since God is sovereign over even the relational fractures of His people, in His great wisdom, the Gospel spread and saturated, even more, cultures and people groups than it otherwise, might have (Cyprus and Syria & Cilicia).
Perhaps this passage parallels our current predicament in a way. As Christians, we are hopefully clear on what our purpose is: (1) to glorify God by enjoying Him forever (2) to make disciples of all nations by spreading the Gospel. How this is fleshed out in each Christian’s life, however, will be different. And that is good.
This past March, my wife and I traveled to Greece on a missions trip with a team from our church. While in Athens, we visited Mars Hill, where Paul preached as recorded in Acts 17:16-34. As we read Paul’s oration in the exact place he delivered it, we were struck by an eye-opening thought. In Paul’s ministry to these Gentiles, who knew little to nothing about the God of the Scriptures, he amended his presentation of the Gospel and drew upon examples from their culture so as to be maximally compelling and convincing, though still, of course, relying on the Holy Spirit. Ruslan raised this point aptly as well.
By contrast, however, when ministering to the Berean Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17:11), his presentation of the Gospel referenced the Old Testament heavily, because he knew they held the Scriptures, dear. The message stayed the same; the method changed, based on his audience.
The world needs believers with the emphases of both Lecrae & Shai Linne. It would be the fruit of faulty-reasoning if we divided up into warring camps, ostracizing one or the other as woefully errant.
The tension helps us to be biblically-balanced. If Lecrae and others did not challenge us to engage the culture, perhaps we’d be in danger of secluding ourselves in private Christian communities in complete disregard of Jesus’ command to reach the world. And if Shai and others did not challenge us to love the Glory of God, commune with Jesus, and keep the Gospel of paramount importance in our hearts, perhaps we’d be in danger of being seduced by the world, watering down the Gospel, and missing out on the fullness of joy we can have in knowing God.
My goal here is not to break down the finer points of each party’s ‘mode of ministry’. Rather, I wish to highlight how believers can have ‘sharp disagreements’ about how the Gospel should be spread, even parting ways because of it, and God is still going to sovereignly, wisely, perfectly use our imperfect efforts for His glory. And our differences serve to diffuse the Gospel even further.
In light of this, we ought to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19), “[putting] on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).
I think Lecrae and Shai Linne have conducted themselves in this manner, modeling for us all how to be about our Father’s business even if we disagree with our brother.
All in all, I feel so much hope, fam. God is sovereign over our disagreements. And our highest happiness and the primary pursuit of God’s heart is not in jeopardy: God will be glorified. Be encouraged!
Let’s desperately rely on the Holy Spirit for strength to live in the tension. May we first abide in Jesus, “counting everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Him” (Philippians 3:8), and then may we seek to be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). If we remain true to the message of the Gospel, God will cause our work to be fruitful to His glory, regardless of the methodology.
Thank you, Lecrae. Thank you, Shai Linne. Thank you, every true believer who, regardless of their angle, picks up the microphone with the ultimate aim of making Him known.
Until the nets are full,
Philippians 3:8 – “Count It Loss”
PS: Paul and Mark later reconciled. Paul from prison wrote, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (II Timothy 4:11). Praise God!