From Cairo to Christ by Abu Atallah, Free for CAPC Members
Simply put, From Cairo to Christ is an uplifting, illuminating, and convicting read.
In hip hop music videos, it’s uncommon to see rappers take as much pleasure in giving money, goods, and resources away to people in need as they take in showing those things off. Most hip hop videos feature talk and images of how many women are attracted to the artist, a focus on the artist’s style and possessions, and/or threats of what the artist will do to you if you step to them incorrectly or disrespect their name.
But as hip hop culture changes, Drake — already known for breaking the hip hop mold — flips the script and decides to use the budget for the “God’s Plan” video to purchase items for, or give money to, people who have greater needs than him.
While it’s easier to critique the video’s potentially unbiblical or wayward problems, there are three specific reasons why Christians should collectively enjoy the concept of “God’s Plan.” The video’s concept helps us redefine what “flexin’” could and should look like, provides a broader and more unique picture of the influence that hip hop can have on the culture, and challenges Christians to be a more gracious, compassionate, and giving people.
Hip hop artists and fans use the term “flexin’” to mean showing off what they have and how much they have. Drake redefines this term in a very positive way: he doesn’t simply show off what he has, but rather, shows how much of it he can give away.
This is a striking parallel to how God “flexes” his common grace to people around the world. No person deserves God’s mercy, protection, or provision. Yet he still freely gives us our common everyday needs. “God’s Plan” should remind us of the overwhelming grace and gifts of God as we see people’s faces light up with thankfulness for Drake’s generosity.
The jobs, food, clothes, and shelter we have are all gifts from a God who loves people. He doesn’t give gifts only to perfect people who are in church every Sunday, serve in ministry, or try to do the right thing, nor does he withhold gifts from people who curse, drink, smoke, or tell lies. God freely gives to all the gift of life and the many joys that come with it. He is, of course, displeased with injustice and dishonesty, but he’s an overwhelmingly gracious God, almost offensively so.
However, God’s mightiest flexin’ is in the specific grace of salvation given to all who believe in Christ. The greatest gift anyone can receive is the forgiveness of sins past, present, and future. God made this possible through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of his son, Yeshua the Christ, and all of his common grace gifts should lead us to belief and repentance.
“God’s Plan” challenges the negative presumptions of hip hop and its cultural influence. Though Christians have grown increasingly open to hip hop’s artistry and its accompanying culture, many remain understandably uneasy about appreciating artists who don’t use explicitly Christian language in their lyrics.
Rappers who lack the “Christian” label can have a harder time communicating to Christians that their work is diverse and able to help the common good. The “God’s Plan” music video is an invitation to those Christians still afraid to observe the differences of another culture to investigate the good influence that hip hop has on people’s lives.
Music in general, and hip hop in particular, has a beneficially communal aspect that brings people together to share the experiences of pain, perseverance, and determination through a medium of poetic verses and rhythmic sounds. It has been a well of hope presented in a socially relevant way for those determined to succeed against life’s obstacles. When people experience the grace of overcoming financial obstacles at the hands of one of hip hop’s leading moguls, it makes the possibility of overcoming the struggle a little more real.
For many, it’s hard to understand how hip hop provides hope in this kind of struggle. But we need not be afraid of what we don’t understand. We can learn from it and filter everything through the word of God without passing judgement or condemning those who aren’t like us.
Are there still sinful things within hip hop culture? Sure, but not anything that’s too different from mainstream pop, country, folk, or dance. Every genre contains pride, arrogance, self-dependence, the objectification of men and women, and the misuse and misunderstanding of God’s gifts. But perhaps it would be a greater witness of our Christian faith to point out what is good and true in various musical cultures rather than nit-pick all the bad things we’re against.
Christians should be the primary group praising the theme of Drake’s video. Those who have benefitted from the overwhelming grace of God should best understand what it feels like to receive a free gift. And this should compel and challenge Christians to love and give more to others.
In the Gospels, Yeshua freely gave gifts of healing, food, empathy, and emotional comfort as often as he spoke of forgiveness and repentance. He urged people to turn from their sin and turn to him for forgiveness and salvation. Those were gifts that he gave to people who believed in him as their savior and king. However, he never set up guidelines or prerequisites before giving his common grace gifts of healing, food, and wine. He gave those freely. Did everyone take Christ’s gifts and teachings and repent? Not from what we read. Did he know some recipients still wouldn’t believe in him? Yes, but that didn’t stop him from giving.
So following Christ’s model of freely giving, Christians should give away time, money, resources, food, clothes, housing, cars, scholarships, and more, like Drake in “God’s Plan,” without first trying to change behaviors and attitudes in ways that are culturally, socially, and ethnically comfortable for us. We can give freely and uncomfortably, because God — through Christ who emptied himself of all worldly comforts — gave to us freely.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice discernment before making donations. Ensuring our money is going to a legitimate charity, drive, or foundation and will be used for a just and reasonable cause with compassionate intentions is wise. But creating high walls of self-aggrandizing stipulations that fail to meet any self-righteous standards can create a culture where everyone — greedily or fearfully — holds on to their possessions in the name of artificial excellence.
Shouldn’t we be cautious to not practice our righteousness before men? What if Drake is just using his music video as a marketing gimmick? Did he really have to film himself giving away all that stuff? Did he have to be so public about it?
Yeshua indeed warned his listeners: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1). However, He said this after commanding them to let their “light shine before others, so that they may see [their] good works and give glory to [their] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
So which are we to do? Give away our possessions in secret? Or shoot a music video to show everything we’re giving away?
Motives are Christ’s focus. Yeshua warns against sounding trumpets and making a big deal about giving away possessions as the Pharisees do because he knows what’s in a man’s heart. He knows we’ll be mesmerized by the acclaim that comes from giving. We’re prone to making philanthropy an idol, which only offers the gift of being seen by others — a reward of temporary means.
But when we’re motivated to give and share out of the abundance of joy in our hearts, we don’t need people to see us giving. However, that doesn’t mean people won’t or shouldn’t see us giving. Letting our lights shine before men has the potential benefits of attracting people to God.
What are Drake’s motives? We don’t know and shouldn’t judge with a judgement of condemnation. We can have our opinions while still collectively rejoicing in the good he’s doing for others.
When men preached Christ out of rivalry, Paul could discern their insincere and envious motives from afar. But he neither condemned them nor let it cause him anxiety. Instead, he rejoiced that Christ was proclaimed (Philippians 1:15-18). Though the application is different, we can react similarly to “God’s Plan.” Even if Drake’s motives were to shine the spotlight on himself (which we don’t know for sure), can we still rejoice that people’s needs were being met?
If it’s still too difficult to rejoice, then consider it a challenge. How much money could you raise to give away? How many people who are different than you could you invest your resources and time in? How many families could you help with groceries this week? How many jackets could you give away to the homeless this month? How many people could you help because of the overflowing thankfulness that abounds in your heart due to the abundance of grace and gifts that God’s given to you?
There’s much to love and critique about “God’s Plan,” but overall, the idea of giving away the budget for a music video (close to $1 million) to people who are less fortunate is both generous and cool. Despite the many “bad things” that people are “wishin’ on” him, Drake found it more necessary to flex how much he could give away rather than show off how much he can possess.
Christians should be motivated and challenged to go the extra mile and give more away than Drake did in his video, because we understand the value of having our physical and spiritual needs met. We have the added benefit of not needing to be seen by others to do this. Christians aren’t enslaved to public opinion. We freely give because we freely received the eternal gift of salvation from and through the Lord, Christ Yeshua.
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