Asking the question 'should I take this gig or not?' is not merely a question of pragmatics, concerning availability or remuneration. Sure, those things are important, but for the Christian, there are extra considerations to do with the gig's compatibility with your confession of Christ as Lord. What if it's on a Sunday? What if it involves performing something by someone known for their opposition to Christianity, or something involving content that appears to promote sexual immorality, or which revels in debauchery and licentiousness? What if it's in a venue, or for an occasion, that you feel is incompatible with your Christian faith?
This situation requires an understanding of what the Bible says about various things, including holiness, what constitutes a 'conscience issue' (see 'part 2' of this resource), and wisdom, which is what this article is all about, particularly with reference to Sabbath and Sundays. If you can't be bothered to read the whole article (and I recognise it's long!), head straight to the bottom to see my conclusions.
(Do also check out 'part 1' of this resource, which provides a framework for assessing these situations more holistically from a Christian worldview.)
But is it wise?
Having explored Romans 14 and what it says about conscience issues in part 2 of this resource, we concluded that some people will legitimately decide that Sundays should be kept sacred as a Sabbath (rest) to the Lord, while others will equally legitimately decide that no day is more sacred than another. The practical upshot of this is of course that the former will decline offers of gigs on Sundays, and the latter will feel free to accept them.
In this article, however, I want to add a word of caution to that latter group, which is simply to point out that even if you can, it doesn't mean that you should. At least not always.
In other words, when offered a gig on a Sunday, the question to ask is not simply 'am I allowed?' but 'is it wise?' Paul specifically makes this point in 1 Corinthians 6 when, addressing believers in Corinth who were trying to take advantage of their newfound freedom in Christ, he writes:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
In Christ we are free! It's a wonderfully liberating truth, and one of the great attractions of the glorious gospel of Jesus. And so within the legal limits of God's moral law, you have the right to do anything. You can. You are allowed. But that does not mean that you should. That does not mean it is wise. 'Not everything is beneficial.'
But what is wisdom?
Naturally this leads us to ask: 'What, biblically, is wisdom?' Many trees have been felled to produce the reams of paper that have borne the answers to this question, but there is an answer that occurs and recurs in Scripture which is worthy of our attention - that wisdom is to 'fear the Lord':
And [God] said to the human race,
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Three different Bible writers, one clear answer. Wisdom is the fear of the Lord.
Again, reams of paper have been taken up with what exactly the fear of the Lord is, but in short, it is to know profoundly that God is God - the Almighty, eternal, uncreated Creator - and that we are human - mere fragile, transient, dependent creatures, and to live in the light of that basic knowledge. Read one of the most fantastic bits of drama in all of Scripture - Job 38-42 - to witness the Almighty teaching this to a man. The fear of the Lord, then, is to know that the Lord sustains us moment by moment (Colossians 1:17), that all we have is a gracious gift from Him, and that without Him we would be nothing. It is to know that this Almighty God, who has authority to throw you into hell (Luke 12:5), has loved you so much as to humble Himself to come in flesh as a man and to die a criminal's death on a Cross and rise again so as to reconcile you to Himself (1 Peter 3:18) and to be your Lord (Romans 14:9) and so in light of all that, therefore to live for Him in all things, seeking not to displease Him in anything, but in everything seeking to please Him alone.
This is the fear of the Lord. This is wisdom. And this is wonderfully liberating. Dick Lucas once wrote:
To call Christ Lord is to fear to displease Him: yet that godly fear sooner or later sets one free from lesser and unworthy fears.
'But how can I know how to do that?' Well, the answer is very simple: God's Word. Listen to this from Proverbs 4 (perhaps the great chapter on biblical wisdom):
Take hold of my words with all your heart;
keep my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or turn away from them.
Indeed, when King Charles III was presented with the Holy Bible at his recent coronation, we heard these lovely words:
Receive this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God.
And what about folly?
Well, put very simply - folly is the opposite of wisdom. So folly, in short, is not to fear God. It is to think too highly of oneself and too little of the Almighty. It is to ignore the Word of God. In this sense, all unbelievers are fools.
And whilst that may seem rude, that is only so if we use a non-biblical definition of folly. As in, if we equate folly with low intelligence or common sense (which is what the world generally means by folly), then to call all unbelievers fools is of course outrageous. But in the biblical sense just outlined, it is merely the logical conclusion.
Does that make all believers 'wise', then? Well, no, because although we may have heeded God's Word to the extent of trusting in Jesus, we are all still sinners whose default setting is not to fear God as we ought. And so it is important for us as believers to avoid folly as it is described in Scripture.
The book of Proverbs is the go-to book for understanding folly. There we learn that the fools are those who, amongst other things, 'despise... instruction' (1:7), 'hate knowledge' (1:22), 'find pleasure in wicked schemes' (10:23), 'detest turning from evil' (13:19), 'spurn a parent's discipline' (15:5), are 'quick to quarrel' (20:3) and 'trust in themselves' (28:26). But most of all, Proverbs teaches us again and again that the fool is the precise opposite of what, according to James 1:19, we ought to be, - that is, the fool is slow to listen and quick to speak (and therefore quick to anger), rather than the other way round - see 10:8, 14:3, 14:17, 15:2, 18:2,6,7, 23:9, 29:9,11.
The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.
And so we may conclude:
The wise fear the Lord and shun evil,
but a fool is hotheaded and yet feels secure.
So what do wisdom and folly look like in practice?
All of the above considered, wisdom, simply put, looks like reading, studying, treasuring, delighting in, meditating upon, inwardly digesting, and then living out the Word of God. And that's hard. That's hard when we have instruments to practise, gigs to perform at, essays to write, assignments to work towards, exams to revise for, jobs to do, bills to pay, and on top of all that, a heart that is 'deceitful above all things' (Jeremiah 17:9), a world that would rather we did anything else, and an enemy who 'prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour' (1 Peter 5:8).
By contrast, folly looks like at best paying scant attention to, at worst outright ignoring God's Word, and it looks like not even listening to the sage advice of others who perhaps have more experience. It looks like thinking you know best and ploughing on regardless.
Absolutes or relatives?
Now we tend to assume that wisdom vs folly is one axis, and that on some 'higher' axis is right vs wrong, good vs evil. The latter seems to concern moral absolutes, whereas we tend to think of the former as somehow less than this. We think of wisdom and folly as relative concepts. Yet listen to this:
The schemes of folly are sin, and people detest a mocker.
Here all that issues from folly is equated with sin, and in fact, if we define folly ultimately as not listening to the Word of God, as we have done above, then of course it is sin.
This makes sense. Even a 'secular' dictionary defines 'wise' as 'having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right'. In other words, wisdom does pertain to moral absolutes, and surely the height of folly would be to 'discern or judge properly... what is true or right' and then choose to act contrary to that judgment. Such an action, issuing from folly, not wisdom, would surely be wrong, or to put it another way, sinful.
All of which should make us wary. If knowingly choosing that which is not wise constitutes sin, then discerning whether something is wise or not, not just whether it is permissible or not, is surely crucial.
So what's this got to do with Sundays?
This whole issue concerns Sundays because we not only need to ask whether or not it is permissible to take a gig on a Sunday, but also whether it is wise or not. And so it's worth knowing a little about the biblical idea of Sabbath rest which is what in many ways gave rise to the Christian habit of setting aside Sundays as 'sacred to Lord'. So:
A very brief history of Sabbath rest
Sabbath rest is something instituted in the Old Testament. Not only is such rest commanded in the Ten Commandments - see Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15 - it also reflects the example of our Creator, who Himself 'rested on the seventh day' (Exodus 20:10). What's more, Old Testament Scripture makes it clear that this day of rest involved refraining from work (see Exodus 34:21 which anticipates the farmer in harvest time who essentially objects to the Sabbath because there is so much work to do) and business (see Amos 8:5 which rebukes corrupt businessmen for complaining about the Sabbath because it deprived them of the opportunity to make more money). Note that it meant refraining from these activities (essentially that by which you earn your keep), not from any activity whatsoever (which is basically how the Pharisees in Jesus' day interpreted it). Indeed, even in the Old Testament, Sabbath rest involved gathering for corporate worship (see Leviticus 23:3 - 'a day of sacred assembly') when they were to remember (and presumably celebrate) God's rescue of them (see Deuteronomy 5:14).
In the New Testament, Jesus, as 'Lord of the Sabbath' (Mark 2:28), reconstituted our understanding of what Sabbath rest was all about and how Sabbath was truly to be kept. His chief points in refuting the legalism of the Pharisees were that 'the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath' (Mark 2:27) - i.e. Sabbath rest is meant to serve us, not vice versa - and that on the Sabbath day, certain activities certainly could and indeed should be done - not least showing mercy and doing good to those in need (see Mark 3:1-5, Luke 13:10-18, Luke 14:1-6).
What's more, Luke records in Acts 20:7 how the early believers 'gathered together to break bread' (recalling Jesus's words at the Last Supper - see Luke 22:19) 'on the first day of the week', and such gatherings were weekly, to the extent that Sunday became known as 'the Lord's Day' (see Revelation 1:10), and the early church father Justin Martyr wrote in his First Apology (c.156 AD) that such weekly gathering was normal practice for Christians, and that they met on Sunday because this was the day on which the Lord Jesus had risen. And on 3 March 321, Sunday was mandated as a day of rest by the Roman emperor Constantine I. The transition of the principle of Sabbath rest from Saturday to Sunday was, as it were, complete.
The signpost and the substance
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.
So wrote the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, and thus it is no surprise that he also wrote what is generally considered the pivotal New Testament text on Sabbath rest in Hebrews chapter 4:1-13. Here he essentially interprets the Old Testament idea of Sabbath rest as but a shadow of, to quote Paul, 'the reality [which] is found in Christ' (Colossians 2:17). That is to say, the law for keeping the Sabbath as a day of holy rest 'to the Lord' (Exodus 20:9, Leviticus 23:3) was there to prefigure the final rest from works - that is, continually toiling and striving after acceptance from God through doing good works - that is found in the gospel and salvation of Christ. This rest begins in a preliminary way in this life (see v.3), and is finally and ultimately fulfilled when we enter His glorious new creation at the last day. In other words, true Sabbath rest is found simply in knowing Jesus and consciously resting in His finished work of salvation in the Cross and Resurrection! This is the truest expression of Sabbath rest - the reality to which a physical weekly day of rest points.
However, even though a physical weekly day of rest is a signpost to the reality of the true rest that is found in the gospel of Jesus, Christians down the ages from the very beginning of the Church have still taken a 'day of rest'. But why? Well, for a start, many have seen that its inclusion in the Ten Commandments is enough to assume it still applies in some way, and many have particularly seen that its reflection of our God's rest in His creation (Exodus 20:10) sets a creational pattern - i.e. it is built into our very constitution as human beings made in the image of God to need a day of rest every seven days.
But in addition, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews also wrote the following words:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
With this early injunction to meet together regularly, Christians have been meeting weekly on their 'day of rest' - Sunday - to worship, encourage each other, and remind each other of the gospel, not least in the sacraments and through the preaching of the Word (continuing the Old Testament principle of it being a 'day of sacred assembly' that we saw earlier).
Putting it all together for the 21st century Christian musician
Can you take a gig on a Sunday? The answer for many of you will be 'yes, I am not legally bound by Scripture. True rest, biblically, is found in the reality of Christ, not the keeping of a physical day of rest.'
But should you take a gig on a Sunday? Here's where wisdom comes into play. The reason the writer of the letter to the Hebrews wrote those verses above about continuing to meet together to encourage one another was because he knew that without continual corporate gathering, individual believers will often fall away. The classic metaphor for this is that if you take a hot coal out of the fire with other coals, it will quickly lose its heat. In conclusion, it is eminently wise to make church a top priority. It stands to reason, therefore, that being lax with church attendance is foolish. And as we have seen, to know what is wise and then to choose the opposite is not merely foolish, but sin.
So should you take a gig on a Sunday? Well, generally, no. Sure, maybe sometimes, on the odd occasion, but make it the rare exception. The wise thing, and the good thing for your soul and your love of Jesus, will be to prioritise going to and serving at your local church every Sunday. So if you happen to be offered a gig on a Sunday and you do for whatever reason really want to take it, pray about it, ask advice from trusted friends or leaders at church, and make sure that if you do take it, you ask someone to keep you accountable about it so that it doesn't become a habit.
For all its shortcomings, your local church is one of the greatest blessings afforded you by Christ. It is good for you, your soul, your brothers and sisters, and your worship of Christ. And He, ultimately, is sovereign over your career and your life. So if you say 'no' to that gig because you wish to prioritise church and having a day of rest, then you can rest assured, because He knows what's best, and He has your whole life in His mighty and safe hands.