As a young preacher I often listened to Southern Gospel music on Sunday mornings while preparing to go to church. I listened to the Florida Boys, the Inspirations, the Happy Goodmans, and many others. I didn’t have many options back then—I think we got three channels on our black and white television.
One song I remember well is “Come and Dine.” My, how those quartets loved to sing that one.
Jesus has a table spread where the saints of God are fed
He invites his chosen people come and dine
With his manna he doth feed and supplies our every need
Oh tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time.
Come and dine the Master calleth come and dine
You may feast at Jesus table all the time
He who fed the multitude turned the water into wine
To the hungry calleth now come and dine.
Looking back on that period of my life and taking a more objective view of the genre of music that song represents, I can now afford to be a little more critical (critical” means “involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.”). What I discover when I do a critical evaluation of much of the music and theology I was raised on is that much if not most of it has to do with “my” feelings and “my” comfort and “my” benefits in following Christ. The faith expressed in much popular theology and music in those days was very individualistic and even self-centered. The focus was on how the individual feels about Jesus or how Jesus makes the individual feel.
Now I wouldn’t begin to argue against the blessings of knowing Christ. Nor would I want anyone to think I don’t believe there is “joy in serving Jesus,” to quote one of the songs of my youth. Not on your life! And there is peace in knowing Jesus. Peace like a river; joy and love like an ocean; these are real and they are available for every believer in Christ.
But it is interesting to me that when Jesus called for people to follow him, He never tied a carrot on a stick and promised them wonderful joy and unspeakable blessings. He called them to a relationship that would result in a purpose: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people” (Mark 1:17).
He called them to count the cost: “Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me’” (Mark 8:34 HCSB).
You know that by “taking up your cross” Jesus wasn’t commanding his disciples and “seekers” that they needed to go down to the jewelry store and buy a cross necklace and begin wearing it. And He was also not instructing them to get a bumper sticker with the words “Honk if you love Jesus” and put it on the back of their wagons. He was especially not recommending that they get a tee shirt with a cross logo on it and the words, “I’m serious about Jesus.” He was telling them that they must die—to their sin, their plans, their purposes, and their self-directed lives. He was soon to carry His cross to Golgotha and die there. They must have a similar experience. No one—not father, mother, sister or brother, or friends—can be more important than Jesus. Nothing—not career, religion, social connections, or precommitments—can stand ahead of Jesus.
Jesus did invite his disciples to “come and dine” (John 21:12 KJV), but that was later, after his resurrection. It seems to me that the call to “come and die” precedes the call to “come and dine.” Fellowship at the table with the resurrected Christ does not happen until we fellowship with the crucified Christ.
Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he wrote:
“But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ —the righteousness from God based on faith. [My goal] is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.” Phil 3:7-11 (HCSB)
Death precedes resurrection; suffering precedes glory; the “fellowship of His sufferings” precedes the “power of His resurrection.”
I do agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that joyless Christians are bad advertisements for Jesus Christ. I’m just saying that joy is a by-product of a crucified life, not the immediate result of a shallow commitment.
The call to “come and die” precedes the invitation to “come and dine.”
I’m not hearing much about this from popular pulpits today. Most of what I hear is the “stick and carrot” approach.
What we get when we treat lost people like religious consumers and treat prospective church members like bidders for the lowest-priced membership is a market-driven Christianity that is captive to culture and consumer demands.
We might ought to prefer to be “captive to the word of God,” as Luther said about his conscience.
I’m just sayin’ . . . .
© Alan Day
Alan Day (1948-2011): Dr. R. Alan Day was pastor of First Baptist Church, Edmond, for 25 years. He also previously pastored churches in Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana. A prolific writer, Day is the author of two books, Lordship . . . What Does It Mean? and Family First, and a contributing author for Baptist Theologians. He served the Baptist Messenger as a columnist for several years, writing a weekly Baptist Doctrine series from 1999-2002, then an “I’m Glad You Asked” column in 2005.
Alan Day tragically passed away in February 2011 following a motorcycle accident.