Many Christians and church leaders do not talk about the place and power of music in our worship to God. Some have never given this topic much thought or consideration. I do agree that we have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing instruments or no instruments when we meet for worship. That is all I remember on this topic from my childhood. In recent times lessons about music have been focused on what not to do (instruments) while giving little or no attention to what we are to be doing when we sing and why.
For example, what is the first thought that comes to mind when you read Ephesians 5:19
“…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…”
or Colossians 3:16 –
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
For many of us, instruments or no instruments is not only our first thought when we read these verses, it is our only thought. It is as if this was the main point that God, through Paul, was trying to teach.
In the context of Colossians 3, Paul is exhorting us to live in love, just as Christ loved us and sacrificed Himself (Colossians 3:1-2). If we love the Lord and one another we will not sin against one another (3:3-14). The rest of the chapter instructs how husbands and wives are to love one another. However, Paul is not the only one who is to teach and admonish fellow believers to live in love. We too are to instruct with wisdom and to encourage with patience through the songs that we sing.
Singing together is a powerful proclamation of our unity in faith and teaching. Our love is bound together in “perfect harmony” (3:14 – ESV) or in a “perfect bond of unity” (NASV). Whether we sing in four-part harmony or in unison we lift our voices together to speak the same thing. We all attempt to sing the same words, in the same key and in the same rhythm. This is a beautiful personification of the unity, cooperation and patience that is found in the body of Christ.
Secondly, songs give us a transportable tool to remember the words so that we can recite them later. Many people tell me that they cannot memorize a Bible verse, yet they can flawlessly sing the words and music to an entire song they have not heard in 25 years. I remember as a young child learning many Bible verses that were put to music which I still remember today. When the song, hymn or spiritual song is impressed on our mind, we can recall the message and meaning throughout our day or when we need to hear that message in a time of need. Paul tells us to “Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly” (3:16) and one way it lives inside our mind, heart and soul is through song.
Thirdly, music has a way of touching our heart and soul that sometimes cannot be reached with a spoken word. You may think of your favourite song (sacred or secular) and if someone simply read the words to you it would not have the same impact as the musical rendition. Most people listen to radio stations that play music, most Youtube videos with over 100 million views are songs, movies and shows have a lot of music to set the mood for our emotions. Music can be used to manipulate our emotions, but it can also be used to touch our hearts. King David wrote many Psalms which are not only poetical in the Hebrew but many also had music so they would be sung by the Levites, temple musicians and the congregation. Psalms, by definition, are poems set to music.
Also, music has a way of changing the way we think, act and talk. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” If you follow his line of reasoning, he is not emphasizing the sin of drunkenness; instead, he is teaching from it. We should not get drunk because alcohol puts us “under the influence”. It has the power make us irrationals, to arouse our anger, to say things that we would never say if we were sober and to do things that we would avoid when in our right mind. We are changed into another person … more like the devil. So, don’t get intoxicated on booze or drugs!
Instead, become intoxicated with the love of the Lord, the grace of Jesus and the Word of God. Others may think you are out of your mind because you are not acting like you anymore. In contrast to the drunkard, your thoughts are full of wisdom, you have peace, patience and kindness, you speak words of hope and healing, your actions are driven by humility, compassion, and service. You are changed into another person … more like Jesus. This is accomplished, in part, when we “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19).
Music has power to calm a restless spirit. When King Saul rebelled against the Lord, an evil spirit inhabited him and his spirit was provoked. David was able to sooth Saul’s vexation through music and song. Paul speaks about the “peace of God reigning in our hearts” (3:15) which may also be included in this contest of singing to one another.
Since there is no doubt that “singing to one another” is very important, it would make sense that we would make this a part of our corporate worship. However, we would be hard pressed to think that this is all that Paul had in mind since, in the context of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5, he is not just speaking of the Sunday meeting gathering. It would be appropriate to sing whenever or wherever it would encourage, teach and strengthen others and ourselves. We should also regularly sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs when we are by ourselves. May we take advantage of modern audio, video, radio a cappella Christian music that we can access anywhere (record it digitally to our device or find it on-line) for instant playback.
If it is true that music makes an impression in our life, moves our heart and soul, instructs and leads our thinking and impacts those around us, the important question is: “what kind of music do I listen to all week long?” In my car, through my earbuds, in the kitchen or workshop, YouTube videos, some might even still listen to records, cassettes or 8-tracks. Is it worldly music about drinking, drugs, sexual encounters, anger, bitterness, violence, revenge, profanity? Paul tells us “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” (Ephesians 5:3-4) Some of us need to add some new songs and delete some old music from our listening library so that we can be filled with the Word of God and not the lies of the world.
The Lord likes singing. He not only enjoys hearing us sing our praises to Him, thanksgiving for all He has done, our testimony of redemption and our resolution to follow, but He likes to sing. When we are struggling with trials, discouraged over circumstances, or suffering through the pains of life, God sings. Even in our times of victory and celebration, God is rejoicing with us. It is always encouraging to remember that “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
It is important that you sing such songs because they are changing you into the person that you want to be. Keep singing. Encourage others with your song. Join with others who sing your song. Learn a new song that will continue to teach, encourage and motivate you to grow even more.
So ‘choose ye today’ what song(s) will be on your playlist. Do yours belong up there alongside the “Song of Moses” and “of the Lamb” (Revelation 15:3)? Or do they serve the will of the dragon?
Maybe it is time for a whole new playlist and not just a shuffle.
Royal Oak, Michigan