Index by Subject

“Literally” – A Discussion of Definitions

I recently read an interesting short article on the use of the term “literally” that I want to share with you, then comment upon.

Two Misuses of “Literally”

“He literally knocked his head off.”  No.  If he had, the head would have rolled across the floor, separated from the body.  “Literally,” in that case, is mistakenly used to intensify a figure of speech, but “literally” does not intensify the figure.  It says “knocked his head off” is not a figure of speech but a true description of what he did.

Another misuse of “literally” has to do with word meaning.  Someone says, “proskuneo ‘literally’ means ‘kiss the ground toward.’”  No, proskuneo literally means “worship.”  “Kiss the ground toward” is its etymology, how the word was formed.  It is also an archaic meaning; as ancient Persians did literally fall on their faces and kiss the feet or hem of the robe of their deified kings.  Etymology does not determine meaning; usage does.  The New Testament frequently says, “They fell down and worshipped him”  (Matthew 2:11; e.g.).  “Fell down” is from a different original word, “worshipped” is proskuneo.

“Literally” does not intensify a figure.  A word’s etymological meaning is not its “literal” meaning.

Cecil May
Preacher Talk (Vol. 27, No. 2—April 2012)

The first misuse of the term “literally” is typical in casual conversation.  While irritating to those who are sensitive to the mangling of the English language, it is innocuous.  However, defining biblical terms by their etymology, (or even their assigned dictionary definitions), without considering context, is extremely troubling as we seek to interpret God’s word.

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True Worship

John 4:16-24

Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was astounding in both circumstance and content.

The Jews hated the Samaritans, and the feeling was mutual.  The conflict had its origin in the divided kingdom, and the animosity only grew through the centuries until the time of our Lord.  It is important to note that  the Samaritans were the remnants of the northern Jews who had been taken into Assyrian captivity, and had intermarried with other races upon their return to Samaria.  The mingling of races, combined with the Samaritans acceptance of pagan gods led to a mongrel race and religion.

The Samaritans had built  a temple upon Mount Gerizim, adjacent to Jacob’s well.  It is this mountain to which the woman referred, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (vs. 20); and is the setting and context for the conversation recorded in John 4.

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Editorial: Commitment of Biblical Proportions

No doubt you have heard the following story in one form or another:

The pig and the chicken walked down the street together.  Every restaurant they passed had signs in the window advertising, “Ham and Eggs.”

“See,” said the chicken, “We’re famous.”

The pig grunted. “For you,” he said, “a plate of ham and eggs is just a cackle. For me it’s the supreme sacrifice.”

In a more concise form it is observed that when it comes to such a breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed!

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A Capella Singing

In the July 3, 2010 issue of The Christian Chronicle, coverage was given to a recent “international symposium of sacred a cappella music, involv[-ing] members of Churches of Christ as well as Mennonites, Eastern Orthodox, Reformed Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics.”

The symposium was a sequel to a previous effort which took place in 2007.  Concerning that event, the article notes “‘The Ascending Voice’ debuted at Pepperdine in 2007 — the brainchild of [Darryl] Tippens, who saw it as a way to celebrate and promote a cappella worship in a world of praise bands and recorded music.”

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Scripture Studies: The Purpose of the Church

Those who believe the Bible accept the fact that the church is part of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:9-11).  It was not an accident or aberration from His will.  The church was planned and purposed before time began, because it is integral to the plan of salvation (Gen. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).  It consists of those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ and is destined for heaven (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20; 15:24).  Yet, few men respect the church.  They view it as an institution established and governed by the whims of man.  It even serves their basest desires.

The purpose of the church is to save souls.  It is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).  As such, it supports the gospel in the world, spreading the faith to the lost (1 Thes. 1:7-9).  By teaching this truth, it provides men the opportunity to be set free from sin and death (Jn. 8:32).  In other words, the church teaches the gospel which is God’s power unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).  When men obey it, they turn from being slaves of Satan to servants of God (Rom. 6:16-18).  However, some do not honor the purpose of the church.

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The Lord’s Supper

Any discussion of the Lord’s Supper as an act of worship necessitates decisions regarding what aspect of the subject is to be explored.  In addition to the institution and observance of the supper, there are questions regarding the emblems, frequency of observance, and to whom it is to be offered.  In following our format in this series, the material offered for consideration constitutes a general, cursory view of the topic.

The Purpose

Concisely stated, the Lord’s Supper is a commemorative meal.  It is designed to help us remember our Lord and Savior.  While the emblems bring to mind the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, His divine instructions at the institution of the supper are to be understood more broadly, stating that the eating of the emblems is to be done “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).  In addition to the death of our Lord, his perfect life, authoritative teaching, confirming miracles, and resurrection should be considered as well.  Each of these combined show him to be our Savior and Lord.

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Our Lord serves as a wonderful example of sacrificial giving.  Though divine, he gave up his position in heaven to dwell on earth as a man, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).   Of this action, Paul told the Corinthians, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

God’s command to give “as he may prosper” (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2), allows His children to follow their Lord’s example of sacrifice.  Such sacrifice enriches us spiritually even as we contribute to the Lord’s cause.  We have received so much, it is only proper that we give back a portion of that with which we have been blessed. Continue reading » Giving


In Hebrews 10:24-25, the Hebrew writer expounds upon one of the primary purposes for the worship assemblies, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” When we come together, it is for edification.

Edification is accomplished by several means.  As we speak to one another in song (cf. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16); pray (cf. Colossians 3;16); declare the Lord’s Death in his supper; (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26), etc.; we are built up in Christ.

Continue reading » Preaching/Teaching


C.R. Nichol and R.L Whiteside, in their Sound Doctrine workbooks, said of prayer, “Perhaps no one can be entirely free from his environments; but to keep this prayerless spirit of the present age from overwhelming us, let us diligently read the Bible, and thus associate with God and Christ and the praying men of God — and pray.  Prayer is the very breath of the Christian” (Vol. 2, pg. 68).

“Prayer is the very breath of the Christian.” This is a sentiment, which if embraced by Christians, will lead to the type of spiritual maturity and mindset needed to combat the evil of our day.

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One of the most edifying acts of worship authorized by the Lord for Christians is “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).

There is something about poetry set to a pleasant melody which uplifts men.  This fact was recognized by James when he wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13).  We are indeed blessed that God instructs us to edify and uplift one another as we praise Him in song.

It may be noted that the text mentioned above, (Ephesians 5:19), establishes some parameters which must be followed as we sing in worship.  For example, we see that the songs we are to sing are to be “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” In Christian worship, our singing must be limited to songs which fit into these categories.  Fortunately, there are many songs that conform to God’s standards.

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The Five Acts of Collective Worship

Quantifying the collective worship of the local church is a rather simple thing to do.  One need only read the New Testament and find out exactly what acts of worship the Christians of that time engaged in.  If we are able to establish what God commanded the disciples to do, or to establish examples of them engaging in worship that was endorsed by God, we can then know what is constituted in God’s divine directives for congregational worship.

When this is done, five acts of worship are revealed:

  • Singing
  • Prayer
  • Preaching/Teaching
  • Giving
  • Partaking of the Lord’s Supper

Such quantification leads to criticism in our time.  If you speak of the five steps in God’s plan of salvation, or the five acts of collective worship, you are in danger of being called a legalist.  “Too much emphasis on form!” it is said, “You are only interested in ritual, and have a dogmatic view of things!”

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Surely You Have Things Turned Around!

There are several things necessary for worship to be “true worship.”  First, God must be the object.  By this we mean the one true God; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The God referred to by Paul when he told the Athenians, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands…” (Acts 17: 22-24). The God to which Paul refers here is the one true God.  He is the Creator of the universe.  He is the omnipotent, omniscient, self-existent One. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).  All other gods are figments of man’s imagination.

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The Concept of Worship to God

Man is a worshipful being.  Through the history of mankind, in every culture, whether in ignorance or knowledge, man has appealed to someone or something outside of himself for guidance and protection.  Pagan idolatry is an example of that “ignorant” worship.  Paul declared to the idolatrous Athenians, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).

It is not the purpose of this article to argue for the existence of God.  Granting his existence, it remains that worship must be directed to him rather than the false gods devised by man.  Worship offered to dumb idols goes unrewarded and unappreciated.  The prophets of Baal figured that out in their contest with Elijah on Mt. Carmel.  Notice the derision expressed by Elijah with regard to their pleas to Baal, “And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened'” (1 Kings 18:27).  Their petitions went unheeded because Baal was not, in fact, a God.

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May Women Speak in Bible Classes

I will never forget the time that I had just begun to work with a new local church, and was waiting, on a Sunday morning or afternoon (I cannot remember which) to deliver one of my first sermons.  Immediately before the worship began, I was herded and pinned in by a group of older men who had all grown up in a certain part of Kentucky.  They asked me whether I believed women could speak in Bible class, and, practically before I could utter a word, they inundated me with their own arguments why they thought women could not.  One of them even went so far as to say something to the effect of, “I would rather have musical instruments than women speaking in Bible class, because the Bible doesn’t say not to have them, but it does say women can’t speak.”  After having been thoroughly, verbally assaulted by these men, meaning well no doubt, I was hardly in a frame of mind to deliver a good sermon!  But, the fact that this question meant so much to these men made me realize that it is not merely some intellectual, theological question, but a valid question which local churches must study and answer.  To merely ignore or avoid the question is to have congregations where women do not know what to do, and some are afraid to speak, and some feel that they have something worthwhile to contribute to the class, while some men sit fuming, believing these women to be in sin.

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Contending for the Faith: Pattern Authority, Pattern Worship?

The following requests and questions (in italics below) were submitted to me for comment. We trust the responses will be helpful and will gender study and reflection, not strife and recrimination.

    "For those of you who believe in a "patterned" and prescriptive "worship", would you please supply the following for me?

    (a couple of stipulations….Do it FROM the New Testament ALONE. Do it by PROVABLE Authorial intent)

Reply: Why should we be forced to follow a pattern in reply? Since it is obvious the querist does not believe in a pattern, how can he demand that we follow one?

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Walking Worthy: Worshipping with an Instrument

God knows how to describe the use of mechanical instruments in musical worship. A cursory review of the Old Testament will show David’s devotion to various instruments, including the trumpet, harp, flute and cymbals (Psalm 150). Indeed, God knows how to talk about instrumental music in such explicit terms that no one could miss the point.

The question then must be raised, why has he failed to permit or command us to use instrumental music in worship of the New Testament economy? For whatever reason, God knows, he has chosen to remain silent on the subject of using such instruments, but has been more than explicit about the use of one’s heart and voice to sing his praises.

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Be An Example … In Purity: Purity in Worship

Man has an inherent need to worship. This need is as strong as his need for sleeping, for eating, for companionship, etc. If we go to the most remote corners of the world we will find this need being fulfilled by all societies. People may not always worship the right thing, but they worship something. They may not always worship in the right way, but they worship some way. They may not even believe in the God of heaven, but they believe in some supreme power.

Some in our society teach that it does not matter how you worship if you are sincere. In An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. IV, page 236, W.E. Vine says, “The worship of God is nowhere defined in Scripture.” He is saying that God has made us and allows us to serve Him if we choose, in any manner we choose. It means that God does not care how we worship Him and that any worship is acceptable to Him. If this is the case then how can there be true or pure worship? Continue reading » Be An Example … In Purity: Purity in Worship