Music – Liberty or Limits

Casting Crowns … Ernie Haas and Signature Sound … Jars of Clay … Michael Card … Petra … George Beverly Shea … Third Day … The Happy Goodmans … Barlow Girl … Chris Tomlin … Bill & Gloria … What’s your choice? Does it matter? I have my taste, and you have yours … right? It is all about personal preference, isn’t it? Your personal preference will be an important factor when deciding what music you will listen to; but, as with other decisions in life, your liberty to choose will be limited by the principles of Scripture. “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1Cor 10:23, ESV).

The Power of Music

Consider 1Samuel 16 (it will help if you read vv 14-23). King Saul would sometimes be troubled – emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. His servants suggested that someone should play music for him. David was brought and we read, “David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him” (v 23). Wow! Saul’s mood was changed by the music! The music refreshed him and made him well. Music is powerful.

You have possibly seen someone sitting down, enjoying a calm conversation, focused on the people to whom they are talking … until the beat starts. As soon as the music begins, something happens to them, as if they can’t help it. They start to sway or shake in unison with the music, or they have to get up and start dancing. It’s as though the music is controlling them! Music is powerful. Recent medical research showed that the schoolwork, social interactions, mood, behavior, and promiscuity (look it up!) of young people were impacted by listening to sexually explicit or violent music. No wonder the Greek philosopher, Plato, once said, “Give me the songs of a nation and it matters not who writes its laws.” The influence of music, by its lyrics as well as its beat and sound, is powerful.

It isn’t just the music of the world that impacts us in powerful ways. You may plug in your MP3 player after a difficult exam and find your mood tremendously lifted as you listen to your favorite Christian mix. Many of us have experienced the surprise of emotion quickly swelling up within us when we hear an artist passionately crying out to the Lord in song, and tears start to fill our eyes, even if we’re at the steering wheel of our cars. We can be moved in our spirits by song. Spiritual transformation will involve emotion, but it is also important to remember that it is much more than an emotional high. Nonetheless, the sudden emotional response shows how great an impact music can have.

Since music is so powerful, what music you choose to listen to is im­portant. What feelings does the music you listen to create in you? Does it help influence your desires and behavior toward the Lord or not?

The Praise of Music

Music is an art. God evidently values artistic expression. Consider a vibrant evening sky at sunset, or the beauty of multicolored autumn leaves, or the majesty of mountains that tower beyond the clouds. They are beautiful works of art. Think of the various songs of different birds, or the comforting sound of waves continually washing ashore, or the unique underwater serenades of whales. It is music composed by the Creator. The songs of men and women are also to be to His glory. “I will praise the Name of God with a song” (Psa 69:30). Music is intended by God to be for His praise. However, like all other forms of art, music has been robbed, desecrated, and corrupted.

Do your iPod playlists convey praise to God? Do you view music merely as entertainment or does it reflect your heart’s desire that this art form may lift your soul in praise to God?

Another gentle reminder might be helpful. Remember that Christian music is supposed to produce praise to the Lord, not your boyfriend or girlfriend. One of the dangers of contemporary Christian music is a tendency to portray our relationship with the Lord with the same type of romance and intimacy experienced between human partners on earth. If an occasional “Lord” or “Jesus” was not inserted into the lyrics, you might wonder about whom the artist was singing. If you want to write a love song for your girlfriend, go ahead! But remember Who lies at the heart of worship. If the music is supposed to be praise to God, then it should balance our closeness to the Lord with the fact that He is our LORD. David said, “I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness: and will sing praise to the Name of the LORD most high” (Psa 7:17).

The Poetry (Lyrics) of Music

It follows logically from the previous paragraph that the words of our music are important. Remember that when you read the Book of Psalms or the Song of Solomon, you are reading actual songs with inspired words. In other words, the Spirit of God has written lyrics for music. It is wonderful to think of our Lord Jesus singing praise to His Father (Mark 14:26) with words given by the Holy Spirit – the Trinity in praise! The Spirit carefully selected words that would be consistent with the rest of God’s revelation of truth. It goes without saying (but here I am, saying it!) that you should be able to make out the words of the music you listen to – “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1Cor 14:15). The lyrics are important. Our Father is seeking worshipers and that worship must be “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24).

Do you want the songs you listen to and sing to be in line with the Bible and to stem from spiritual hearts? Artists sometimes like to push the limits under the banner of poetic license or sanctified imagination. We give them some allowance in this, but since the words of a song are so easily ingrained in our memories, it will be a blessing to us if the words are Biblical. The CD may be in the Christian Music section … but are its contents Christian in truth?

How interesting and beautiful that in the last stanza of Psalm 119, a psalm dedicated to the wonders of God’s Word, there are references to singing praise. “My lips will pour forth praise, for You teach me Your statutes. My tongue will sing of Your Word, for all Your commandments are right … Let my soul live and praise You, and let Your rules help me,” (vv 171, 172, 175, ESV).

Admittedly, we have learned that not every line in our Believers Hymn Book (BHB) is doctrinally perfect. But while on the subject of lyrics, it is worth pointing out that a tremendous blessing of the Believers Hymn Book (BHB) is the depth and spiritual quality of the words. Spend a few minutes finding and reading Josiah Conder’s only hymn in the BHB and you will see what I mean.

One weakness of some contemporary Christian music, across various genres, is the absence of spiritual and Biblical depth. CAUTION! I did not say all modern music, nor am I saying you should only listen to songs from the BHB! But shallow lyrics will contribute to shallow thoughts of praise and worship, which in turn may hinder us in our knowledge and appreciation of God.

Some of you may possess a solution in your own hearts and Spirit-enlightened minds. Perhaps you have been skilled by God to write poetry and music. We encourage you in this noble work. As language changes, there may come a day when the people of God look for other songs to express their praise to the Lord. With sincere spiritual desire and a good foundation in God’s truth, and as a result of the experiences of life through which God teaches you, you could be a vessel fit for the Master’s use in writing Christian songs.

Prudence in Judgment

There are two extremes that need to be avoided. Older believers in particular may sometimes be quick to write off everything by a particular group or singer after hearing one tune that they think has too much electric guitar, too many drums, or is too loud. However, that same group may have a stunningly heartfelt and beautiful song on another track, perhaps a rendition of an old cherished hymn. On the other hand, younger believers in particular need to understand that just because a group does have some truly good songs it does not mean that everything they put out is good. You need to exercise spiritual discernment. Even if your grandparents thought one of their songs was lovely, you know that the same group is capable of producing some music that has far more in common with the world than with God. “Judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The Piracy of Music

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). Illegal downloading is called what it is because … (wait for it) … it’s illegal. Pirating music is when a person uses or reproduces the work of another without authorization. Did you ask Aaron Shust for permission before you copied that CD? Our Lord Jesus taught, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12, ESV). You may feel that the artist has more than enough money, and that he wouldn’t mind helping out a young Christian, and that the believer to whom you give the copy will be really blessed by it, and on and on it may go. Consider just lending them your CD.

The Purity of Music

Ephesians 5:19 says we should be communicating with one another “in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Are the songs you are listening to spiritual? The Holy Spirit of God indwells us and each believer’s body is therefore the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19). To be filled with the Spirit and to be led of the Spirit, we must not grieve the Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit enjoy listening to your music with you?

Perhaps it will help drive the point home if you looked at it this way. The Lord Jesus was a teenager once. While He likely encountered times when an older generation did not properly understand or relate to Him, we know He never lost control and never had a sinful thought. He was perfect. At 12, He was the perfect 12-year-old. At 17, He was the perfect 17-year-old. He knows what it is like to be a teenager, and He knows what it is like to always please God: “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29).

Now, you want to be like the Lord Jesus and you want to please God. If the Lord Jesus was present with you, in the seat beside you, would you be comfortable with His listening to the music you listen to? Next question: did you remember that, in fact, the Lord Jesus is always present with you? Our Lord Jesus said, “Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Proverbs 23:17 is a good verse to memorize: “Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”

This section isn’t meant to make you paranoid, but to remind you that the Lord wants to enjoy the music that you choose to include in your life. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” (1Cor 10:31). The “whatsoever ye do” would include the music you listen to and the songs you sing.

Music is a gift from God. We may respect the art and the artist, but we should remember that the music is not to be worshiped, but is to help us live lives of worship to God. May we all appreciate His kind gift and try to bring Him pleasure by blessing Him through the music we enjoy. “Sing forth the honor of His Name: make His praise glorious” (Psa 66:2).