Music in the Church

Ephesians 5:19 – “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;

Here are some key questions:

  • Do we ever thank God that He has given music to us as a means of expressing our love for Him? As a means of worship? As a means of telling Him of our gratitude for all that He has done?
  • What kind of music is your favorite? Do you enjoy a variety of hymns? Slow tempo? Rhythmic tempo? With a definite beat?
  • What kind of music does the Bible approve?

An article I read by a music teacher concluded that the anthem type was the right one. A song with a definite rhythm or beat was improper. Is this really true? We must face the fact that we can take a position in regard to proper music, based upon our personal preference.

Music is mentioned throughout the Bible. The Hebrews in ancient time, as well as today, are devoted to the study and practice of music. Many top musicians are Jews. We know, from Scripture, that music was important to the O.T. Israelite in his worship services. It is pointed out that painting was entirely ignored by ancient Israel and sculpture almost entirely ignored. They cultivated music and poetry.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: “The events, occasions, and occupations with which music was associated were extremely varied. It accompanied leave-taking with honored guests; celebrated a signal triumph over the nation's enemies; and welcomed conquerors returning from victory.  it was employed to exorcise an evil spirit, and to soothe the temper, or excite the inspiration of a prophet.  The words: 'Destroy not' in the titles of four of the Psalms most probably are the beginning of a vintage-song, and the markedly rhythmical character of Hebrew music would indicate that it accompanied and lightened many kinds of work requiring combined and unifrom exertion.  Processions, e.g. marriages and funerals, were regulated in a similar way.  The Psalms headed 'Songs of Degrees' were probably the sacred marches sung by the pious as they journeyed to and from the holy festivals at Jerusalem. It follows from this that the range of emotion expressed by Hebrew music was anything but limited."  (p 2095, Vol. III)

3 Keys to Music

And, as we consider music, I believe we must exercise a certain amount of latitude lest we deny to another believer music that enriches his or her spiritual life.

  • Biblical References to Music
  • Biblical Values of Music
  • Biblical Principles of Music

I. Biblical References to Music

A. Origin of Music

Genesis 4:21 "His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes."

From this we see that music seems to have originated with Jubal, a descendant of Cain. Men who turn from God are interested in music.  A degenerate music, many times, to be sure, for it does not praise nor worship God.  Yet, there is something in man that delights in music. Man takes that which can be good for him, and degenerates it to please his base nature.

Dr. Griffith Thomas writes: "It is not a fact that there is that in music, art, and civilization which easily panders to the very lowest in man?  And while these things should be, and can be, devoted to the highest interests of human life and the glory of God, the possibilities of evil which thay contain must never be overlooked."

B. Songs of Deliverance

Exodus 15:1-21 "Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.  Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.  He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea.  The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. Your right hand, Lord, was majestic in power. Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you.  You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble. By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up.  The surging waters stood up like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy boasted, I will pursue, I will overtake them.  I will divide the spoils; I will gorge myself on them.  I will draw my sword and my hand will destroy them.’ But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them.  They sank like lead in the mighty waters.  Who among the gods is like you, Lord?  Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? You stretch out your right hand, and the earth swallows your enemies.  In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away; terror and dread will fall on them. By the power of your arm they will be as still as a stone — until your people pass by, Lord, until the people you bought pass by. You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance — the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established. The Lord reigns for ever and ever. When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted.  Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

Here we read the song of deliverance, sung by Moses and the children of Israel.  In this song, they give praise and glory to God for their deliverance from the cruel tyranny of Pharoah. It is fitting and proper for believers to follow the example of these rejoicing people. Believers have been delivered from a spiritual bondage far worse than the bondage of Israel. Our hearts shouid be filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.

C.  Important to Worship

I Chronicles 23:5 "Four thousand are to be gatekeepers and four thousand are to praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose."

I Chronicles 25:1-7 "David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. Here is the list of the men who performed this service: From the sons of Asaph: Zakkur, Joseph, Nethaniah and Asarelah. The sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph, who prophesied under the king’s supervision. As for Jeduthun, from his sons: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah and Mattithiah, six in all, under the supervision of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the Lord. As for Heman, from his sons: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shubael and Jerimoth; Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti and Romamti-Ezer; Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir and Mahazioth. (All these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.) All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.  Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives — all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord — they numbered 288."

Here we see there were four thousand instrumentalists, and the number in charge of the music numbered 288. This gives us an idea of the importance of the musical part of their worship.  Skilled musicians were selected to direct this.  It was not some small sideline.

II Chronicles 5:11-14  "The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves, regardless of their divisions. All the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God."

Here is an impressive scene as God's people praise and worship Him through the means of music. At this time, the glory of the Lord so filled the Temple that the priests were unable to minister.

D. Psalms

As we move through the Old Testament, we think of the Psalms. These represent the essence of Old Testament sacred music. These psalms were varied, psalms of praise, thanksgiving, historical, penitential, Messianic, and imprecatory. Our attention is called to two pages, Psalm 9:2 and 30:4, where we learn that the singing was directed to the Lord:

  • Psalm 9:2 "I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High."
  • Psalm 30:4 "Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name."

In most of our churches, the choir, soloists and instrumentalists direct their music to the congregation.  Singing or playing to God could make quite a difference in the motive and manner of a musical presentation.

E.  The Lord's Supper

Matt 26:30 "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Here we see that at the institution of the Lord's supper, a hymn was sung just before they departed.  Jesus joined in that song.

F.  In Prison

Acts 16:25 "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them."

Midnight in a dungeon; backs bleeding; body aching. Yet, two servants of the Lord prayed and sang. Now, we read that the prisoners hear them, but there was another who listened: God. Paul and Silas were certainly not singing to some congregation.  it was directed to God, and God heard and delivered them. It is to be feared that many times we sing a familiar hymn with our mind a million miles off. How can we receive a blessing from a song unless we concentrate on the message.

G.  Expression of the Spirit-filled life

  • Ephesians 5:19 "speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,"
  • Colossians 3:16 "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."

Here we see that music is the expression of the Spirit-filled life. It is important part of christian living and worship.  It is not to be something incidental. Here we see three types of songs

  1. Psalms - I understand that some churches (at least some in the past) used Psalms only their serices. Psalms have been a source of inspiration for hymns.
  2. Hymns - These are songs of praise or worship to God.
  3. Spiritual Songs

The exact meaning of these three descriptive words is not easily determined. Pulpit Commentary "... psalms we should naturally apply to the Old Testament Psalmns, but the want of the article makes the meaning more general, equivalent to 'songs with the character of the psalms' hymns, songs celebrating the praises of the Divine Being, Father, Son, and Holy Ghose: 'spiritual songs' or odes of a more general cast, meditative, hisorical, hortatory, or didactic.  But these must be spiritual, such as the Holy Spirit would lead us to use and would use with us for our good." (Eph p 211) These scriptures give us a varied view of music in the Bible.  Even those who are not able to carry a tune can make melody in their heart to the Lord.

II.  Biblical Values of Music

A.  Music can be used to implant a message

Don't you just enjoy the singing commercials.  They are used because the business world is aware of their power. The Church uses music to give a message to those who hear it. Take the hymn "One Day" composed of five verses. We find there the virgin birth of Christ, His death on the corss, bearing our sins.  His burial in the garden with angels supervising.  His resurrction and ascension and His return at the sounding of the trumpet.

B.  Music can stir our emotions

As we know, we can be emotional about many things, but when our emotions are stirred in relation to Biblical truth, it is a blessing.  Expressing emotion is not wrong. Music of the right quality and message can thrill and lift us, moving our hearts for the glory of God.

C.  Music can be an aid to memorization

If words of Scripture are set to music, we can learn them as we sing over and over again.

D.  Music is an aid to worship

Music can be used to express our praise to God.  We may not be able to find just the right word so we can use the words of a song to express the worship and praise of our hearts.

Also, a hymn can be used to exhort us:

  • Stand up for Jesus!
  • I am a Soldier of the Cross!

E.  Music can be used to give witness

Think of songs that definitely express Biblical truth.

  • Jesus Saves
  • Just As I Am
  • Whosoever Will
  • The Way of the Cross Leads Home

We can be sure that a song has been used many times to move a sinner to come to Christ

III. Biblical Principles in Music

What would you consider to be the most important point to consider in assessing a hymn?

A.  Doctrinally sound

Colossians 3:16 "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts."

Here we see that we are to teach and admonish one another in Psalms and Hymns. But, before that we are told to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. We would not permit our pastor to preach sermons that were contrary to the Bible. Should we use words of a song that are not scriptural?

There is a hymn in which we find these words: "Dear Lord and Father of mankind." God is not the Father of all men. He is the Father of all who are in Christ Jesus. We may enjoy the music of a certain hymn, but if it is not scriptural of what benefit is it. Another song has this expression "Bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong." There is no scriptural authority for saying that all men are brothers.  There is no such thing as the universal brotherhoold of man. So, first of all, let our hymns be true to the Word of God.

B.  Free from all questionable association

Should we follow the style of the world's music?  If so, why?  We are not to conform to this world. I read of a prominent composer of our day, speaking of music in a Christian film produced several years ago, who said "At last we have bridged the gap between the church and the world."  (Student Quart p 60) Is this what we want to do?

A man named Mike Coyle who was a professional musician with the Boston Pops Orchestra is now an evangelist. He states that rock music is composed of three ingredients: Intensity, beat, repetition. He has this to say concerning the lyrics: "Some of the lyrics are relatively harmless, but the vast majority condone disobedience, lawlessness, disrespect and all kinds of immorality.  To use this medium to reach people for Christ is unthinkable."  (Student Quart. p 79)

Since music does stir our emotions, music used in the church should stir our emotions God-ward. And, what might be a blessing to one might not be to another.  Emotionally we differ. Remember, the Bible does not tell us explicitly what form of music is proper.

C.  Clearly understood

A hymn's message must be understood if it is to be a blessing to us. I Corinthians 14;15 " So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding." Paul speaks of singing "with the understanding". There is the possibility that we might find words or phrases in a hymn that we do not clearly understand.

How about "Here I raise mine Ebenezer..?  Ebenezer means Stone of Help. So, let us sing with understanding.  What am I singing?  Here a good song leader can be a help. Next to preaching, music is probably the most dominant feature in our worship services. There is a possibility that we are too careless in a our choice of music.

We need to evaluate the character of today's music with great care.  Not all that is new is bad, nor is all that is old, good.  To resist all change is foolish, but to accept the new uncritically just because it appeals to us is even more foolish.

If we seek to do all to the glory of God, our music will be for His glory.  If we sing a solo, we will sing unto God.  If we play an instrument, we will do so to the glory of God.

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Local Church
Archie Rines