Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
Holy & Free,
Part 5 – Music, part 2
This morning I want to continue
from where we left off last week in our discussion of music in
worship and then expand that into general principles on all
music. Let me quickly summarize last week’s message before going
on this morning.
Music is a very touchy subject, and
this seems to be especially true when it comes to music that is
used in the worship of God. This is largely because people are
more committed to their selfish opinion than to humble worship.
There is also a common error that equates the musical part of the
service as the worship rather than simply an aspect of worship.
Music itself is not worship, but it can be either a great
enhancement or detriment to it. Too often people judge the
quality of the worship by their personal enjoyment of the music.
People will then argue about form and style of the music and miss
the substance of true worship.
Remember that there is a
distinction between form and content. Content is the message you
want to communicate. Form is the manner by which you communicate
that message. Content is what you say. Form is how you say it.
Unless the proper form is used, the content will not be
communicated clearly. The form can overpower, confuse or even
hide the message.
Last week we saw that there is no
such thing as a "devil chord," "devil’s
beat" or sound that is itself inherently evil. We looked at
some of the various scriptures that describe music used in the
Old Testament and found that all sorts of sounds, loud and soft,
clear and noisy and even discordant ones, were used in the
worship of God. The Psalms invite us to "make a joyful noise
unto the Lord." The form of music itself is non-moral
and can be used for good or evil. It
is the message and the context of usage and purpose that brings
about any evil associated with forms of music.
In addition, no musical instrument
is good or evil in itself. We find in the Scriptures all sorts of
musical instruments used in praising God. These were instruments
common to the culture and also used in pagan rituals. Musical
instruments are no different than our tongues, which can be used
to bless or curse (James 3:10).
Again, the problem in music is not
in the sound itself, but in the evil hearts of men. The
responsibility for evil lies at the door of men’s hearts and
not on the things themselves. We must be cautious because evil
men do take sounds and arrange them for evil purposes, but there
are also many ignorant people who are oblivious to the power of
music. They simply want the style that pleases them without
consideration of the form’s effect on the message. Good lyrics
can be lost in inappropriate music and poor lyrics and heresy can
be promoted through the use of a pleasing tune. These truths
apply to all music, not just worship music.
MUSIC IN WORSHIP
I said last week that there is some
good music being written that shows deep contemplation of God and
the Scriptures. The problem is that the vast majority of what is
currently being written has little thought in it. They tend to be
short, simplistic choruses that are theologically shallow. A
cartoonist captured this well. He drew a fellow with a guitar
standing next to the pulpit saying, I want to teach you a
chorus that I feel has deep theological meaning. The first line
is "Praise the Lord, Hallelujah. Praise the Lord, glory to
His name." We repeat that eight times and then . . . ".
It is not that repetition cannot be used, Psalm 136 certainly
demonstrates that, but that so much of the repetition in modern
choruses is mindless.
I have heard music leaders and even
some preachers say that hymns are too old fashioned and we need
to use music written in the last 5 – 10 years so that we are up
to date. Folks, a hymn that has been around and sung for 300,
400, 500 or more years has proven itself and is no longer to be
judged by people, it rather is a standard that judges people.
Choruses can be great when used properly. Since they are usually
easy to sing, they invite new people to join in our praise of
God. They are also helpful in preparing us emotionally for
worship. However, they cannot substitute for well written hymns.
Colossians 3:16 tells us to "Let
the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom
teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and
spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to
God." A proper response to the Lord in musical worship
comes only when I have the Holy Spirit controlling me (Ephesians
5:18,19). As the word of Christ richly dwells within me, I am to
respond with all wisdom in teaching and admonishing one another
with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness
in my heart to God.
Psalms refer primarily to the Old
Testament psalms put to music, but the term is also used of vocal
music of any type. The psalms magnify God primarily by focus on
the nature and work of God, especially in relation to the life of
a believer. A modern psalm would be something like "O
Worship the King."
Hymns center more on songs of
praise and differ from a psalm only in that they specifically
praise the Lord Jesus Christ. Many scholars believe that certain
scripture passages such as Col. 1:12-16 were used in this manner.
Modern hymns would include songs such as "May Jesus
Christ Be Praised" and "Worthy is the
Spiritual songs is a broad
category. It would include songs of testimony and any music that
expresses spiritual truth. This would include many of the revival
songs of the past century and many modern choruses and songs.
Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
are all to be used in the worship of the Lord, and to eliminate
whole categories claiming they are "old fashioned,"
"not relevant for today," or "not good
worship," displays not only ignorant arrogance, but is to
severely handicap the musical aspects of worship. All categories
are to be used. The key is to use them properly. Each can play a
part in moving us toward the worship of God. We need to maintain
Music is powerful and can strongly
move our emotions. The problem with the various styles of music
is that different people will react to various styles of music
differently. A style that one person finds helpful in their
worship can be very offensive to another person, especially if
they equate that style with some sinful activity. This is the
reason for much of the contention in music in the church, but it
is a debate that really centers in both selfishness and
The tension between contemporary
and traditional music styles has and is causing division in
churches, and both sides are selfish in the debate. They want
what they want irrespective of the effect on other people, and
more importantly, irrespective on whether they are actually
worshiping God. I pointed that out last week. If you show more
passion in defending your "style" of worship than in
obedience and service to the Lord, or if you are more agitated by
what other Christians "like" about their worship than
you are grieved over your own sin and foolish heart, or if you
have a greater concern about controlling or at least influencing
the worship in this church than you are about being controlled by
the Holy Spirit, then don’t kid yourself. You are not worshiping
God, you are not adoring Him, you are selfishly seeking to serve
yourself in a religious exercise.
With that said, let me present to
you things that must be considered when evaluating music for
their usage in worship or even for your personal entertainment. I
already demonstrated last week that there are no "devil’s
chords" or "devil’s beats." The form of music
itself is non-moral and can be used for good or evil. It is the
context of usage and purpose that brings about any evil
associated with forms of music.
EVALUATING MUSIC & MORE
Which is more dangerous, being on
military maneuvers during a war or being treated in a hospital in
which you are unaware that the staff is incompetent? Which
concert would be more damaging to your soul – Marilyn Manson,
Kenny Rogers or a "Christian" concert which was
actually put on by a cult group? When the danger is apparent, we
are on guard, but we put our guard down when we think it is safe
and we become subject to subtle poisons. The danger in music is
not the style or form, it is the content of the message, and the
subtle ones are just as deadly. Most hard rock groups are blatant
in their message of "do whatever makes you feel good,"
and Christians properly complain about it. But Christian stations
played Debbie Boone singing the love ballad, "You Light
Up My Life," even though it contained the same ethical
message in the line, "How could it be wrong when it feels
There are several cautions we must
take when it comes to the style of music, but the first criteria
of caution is the message presented. It is the message that is
most easily and objectively evaluated. What is the message of the
music you listen to for entertainment? Is that message morally
good, amoral or evil? Is it building you up in Christ, or at
least neutral, or is it detrimental to your spiritual walk?
Secondarily we evaluate the style
of the music. Why does the composer use a particular type of beat
and sound? What emotion is the composer trying to create in you?
Is this a proper emotion in the context in which you listening to
it? Is it emotionally overpowering you, or are you still
completely cognitive? This is subjective, but still proper and
important to consider. Remember what I said last week about the
studies in psycho-acoustics that demonstrated that certain
rhythms or beats used repetitiously and played loudly can have
negative effects on us emotionally and even physically.
Much of the effect of music on our emotions is because we
associate the sound, rhythm, etc, with something in our
experience. I like the boom of thunder because I associate it
with wonderful summer vacations and hearing God’s power. Others
hate the sound because lightning scares them. I like the sound of
an acoustic guitar because I associate it with both home Bible
studies and singing around a campfire. I am not fond of a
distorted electric guitar because the sound itself grates on my
nerves and I associate it with the excesses and evil messages of
Heavy Metal and Hard Rock. This does not make it evil to distort
an electric guitar, just personally distracting if not used
cautiously. You make similar associations with all sorts of
music. Are those associations good, bad or neutral?
When we seek to use music to enhance worship, we must give
consideration to the associations most people will have with
certain styles. I must follow Paul’s cautions in Romans 14 &
1 Cor. 8 & 10 to be considerate of others. I do not want to
offend people, but rather have them join me in worship. That is
why we are musically conservative in playing mainstream styles
and do not include radical styles. We also introduce new things
slowly because we want to give people a chance to develop new
associations with the style being used.
MIMICKING THE WORLD
Another danger with music is mimicking the world. We are
cautioned to be separate and not bound together with unbelievers
or what is evil in 2 Corinthians 6. 1 Thessalonians 5:22
admonishes us to "Abstain from all appearance of
evil," and 3 John 11 tells us to not "imitate
what is evil, but what is good . . ." . This does not
mean certain styles of music are automatically guilty because of
association, but it does bring a strong caution to be careful in
the style you use and ask why you are using it. Are you using it
in a way in which you can further glorify God? Are you being
"all things to all people so that you might win some? (1
Cor. 9:22). Are you doing it because you are used to that style
and it pleases your own ears? Or perhaps you are doing it to make
yourself more acceptable to the unsaved and you want their
Some of the songs we consider to be very sacred originated
from very secular music. The tune for "Amazing Grace"
was first a plantation love song and had no spiritual
significance until John Newton wrote new words for it. Our hymn,
"Hallelujah, thine the Glory," was first a drinking
song entitled, "Hallelujah, I’m a Bum," and the
reference to being revived again was alcoholic, not spiritual.
Songs of composers such as Ralph Carmichael & John Peterson
are now considered as a conservative Christian style, but at one
time they were thought to be sacrilegious because they did not
follow the standard format and used syncopation. In his time,
Evangelist Billy Sunday got in trouble with much of the Christian
community because of his innovative song, "Brighten the
Corner Where you Are." Its form was too much like the world.
This usage of popular form as a means to praise God is nothing
new. Ronald Allen, professor of Hebrew at Western Seminary in
Portland, Oregon, has shown that many of the Psalms are
adaptations of forms used in the cultures surrounding them
including adaptations of the forms used in the worship of the
pagan gods. Psalm 93 for example is written in the style used for
Baal worship and in fact covers many of the same themes used in
Baal worship. The difference is that it is the God of Israel that
is praised, and He is shown to be far superior to Baal. In verses
1 & 2 the Lord is presented as being girded with strength and
firmly established on His throne from everlasting. This is in
direct contrast with Baal who only "recently" had
gained his position and who could lose it at any time. Verse 3-4
declares that God is greater than all the mighty waves of the sea
and floods. Baal’s greatest threat was from his rival pagan god,
Yamm, who controlled the sea and water. The psalm was
specifically written in the form of Baal worship in a conscious
attempt to glorify the true God while debunking Baal.
We must be very careful about claiming a certain style or form
is evil just because it has been used by evil people for evil
purposes. God has in the past often used the same forms used to
worship false gods and promote evil to bring praise to Himself.
How powerful our Lord must be to use the songs of His enemies to
bring praise to Himself. At the same time, There is a big
difference between adapting a secular song or style for use in
glorifying God and mimicking the world’s style to make ourselves
more acceptable to the world or to feed our own selfish desires.
It is one thing to consciously take a style or even a
particular song that was used for evil and turn it around into
something that praises God. It is quite another thing to mimic
those who do evil because you want to identify with them. That
includes manner of dress as we talked about a few weeks ago. You
have to seriously consider why you do listen or play what you do.
Doing it just because your friends do it is not reason enough for
the Christian. You are to be a reflection of Jesus Christ. Are
you reflecting Him or someone else?
THE CHARACTER OF GOOD MUSIC
With these cautions in mind, let us now consider the criteria
by which we can judge music.
The first criteria to judge music by is its theological
quality. Does this song match the scriptural view of the world?
Does it glorify what should be glorified and admonish against
what is evil? This is true not only for "sacred" music,
but for "secular" music as well. The eight
qualifications of Phil. 4:8 are the standards we should use for
1) Whatever is True. alhqhV /
al’th’s. If it contains lies, falsehoods or is simply in error,
then it does not pass the test. My first review of any song is
for its theological content. Many songs, both old and new, fail
at this point. They write what they feel, not what is true. We
learn a lot of our theology through the songs we sing, so if we
sing songs with incorrect theology, we lead people to believe
things that are untrue. Again, this standard applies to both
"sacred" and "secular" songs. Is it true in
what is says. Example: A romantic love song that reflects
Biblical values of love such as trust, fidelity, commitment, and
forgiveness is wonderful. I think of songs such as "When I
Fall in Love," "Stand by Your Man,"
"Longer," "Till the End of Time" and
"The Wedding Song." But much of what is presented as
"love" songs are better termed "lust" songs.
They only reveal a selfish individual who is out to exploit other
people. What else could you say of a song in which a guy sings, "Hello,
I love you, won’t you tell me your name." There are
many with lyrics that simply should not be repeated. Does the
message of the song reflect Biblical truth?
2) Whatever is honest/honorable (semnoV /
semnos). These are things of a worthy character corresponding to
truth. This word refers to honorable in the sense of dignified.
In terms of worship music, silly songs may be fun and fine for a
campfire, but do not reflect God’s character and so are not
worshipful. We must also consider that in entertainment music
that there are fun silly songs such as those done by Larry in the
Veggie Tale videos, and those that are crude. There is legitimate
humorous satire, but songs that demean cross the line and are not
honorable. This is an area I have to watch because I like
political satire, but I also need to show those in authority over
me the proper honor due their office (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter. 2:17)
and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1f). Crude and demeaning songs are
3) Whatever is just/right (dikaioV
/ dikaios). This is the adjective form of the word for
"righteousness." That which is in conformity to the
rule of God. It is what is right before His eyes. Any song must
be reflective of God’s standards, and His standards are different
than those of men. When it comes to worship music, the outward
and the inward must be considered, for God looks at the heart. A
song well played by someone whose heart is far away from Him is
not worship of Him. A joyful noise sung by a person yearning for
fellowship with the Lord is a great praise to Him. In
entertainment music, the question must be asked if the song gives
a message opposing God’s. Songs that include topics as
drugs, drinking, infidelity, jail, etc. can be appropriate if
they reflect God’s view of those subjects, but songs that
condone or advocate them are not fitting for the Christian.
4) Whatever is pure (agnoV /
hagnos). This word has the same root as "holiness."
Songs of worship are set apart unto God. He must be the focus,
not man. Examine the Psalms and you will see that mention of man
within them is always in relationship to the Lord. The experience
of the person may be described, but the focus is on the
Lord’s character and actions. Many worship songs fail here
because they have an "I" problem. Their focus is really
on man and his feelings and not on the Lord.
In musical entertainment there is nothing wrong about singing
of human experience, historical events or anything in God’s
creation. The boundary for the Christian is when the song
condones or advocates something as a replacement for God. The
Beatles song, "Day by Day" ("My Sweet
Lord") has been sung by Christians as a prayer to God,
but their original recording of it played on the radio was sung
to Hare Krishna. Here is a case where you could sing this
yourself to God as worship of Him, but to listen to it as
entertainment is to hear the worship of a false God. That is not
pure. Another song that comes quickly to mind is "I Did
it My Way" which advocates self-autonomy as a virtue.
That is not pure.
5) Whatever is lovely (prosfilhV /
prosphil’s). This is a compound word literally meaning
"Toward to love in friendship." Songs of worship should
be pleasing and agreeable. Just because a certain sound or rhythm
is not sinful in itself does not mean that it belongs in worship.
There is a decorum that must exist.
The same is true for musical entertainment. While there is no
"devil chord" or "devil beat," sounds and
rhythm are often purposely put together with an evil purpose in
mind. We should be mindful of that. There is also the aspect here
of loving your brother or sister in Christ. Though you might not
be offended by the music you are listening to, you do need to
consider the thoughts and feelings of others around you who may
be. Is it offending them and causing them to stumble? The
Christian life is not about you, but about letting Christ live
through you. Loving others includes putting consideration for
them above your own personal preferences.
6) Whatever is of good report/repute (eufhmoV
/ euph’mos). In worship music it means that the effect of
the music on others would be to cause them to praise the Lord
too. Remember, when we come together to worship we must give
consideration to the effect of what we do on others. Just because
you like it does not mean other people will. They may find it
offense and that hinders them in the worship of God. (Romans 14).
When it comes to musical entertainment it means that the song
has a good reputation among those who are godly. This
qualification is important because those in the music industry
often give awards to people that are depraved for songs that are
also depraved, so it is not enough that a song earns secular
awards. People often learn to like a style of music because their
friends like it. I like Western Ballads because my father did,
and my boys have learned to like them because I like them. You
need to consider if your friends have enough godly discernment
for you to accept what they like. Too often people decide that
because a media star or someone they consider popular likes
something that it must be something they should also like. That
is why fads spread so quickly, and die out as quickly. This goes
back to the question of association and identification that I
talked about earlier. Who are you trying to identify with? The
Christian should seek to identify with the godly and follow their
7) If it is virtuous/excellent (areth/
aret’). Songs used for worship should be virtuous showing moral
excellence. The message and quality of the form should procure
high esteem for God and move people toward a deeper understanding
and desire for Him.
The same should be true for the music the Christian listens to
for entertainment. Does the song show moral excellence,
neutrality or is it something that is morally degrading? Remember
the principles from several weeks ago? Apply those to music. Is
the song spiritually profitable? Is it a help or a hindrance to
you or others in your walk with Christ? Does the music bring you
into bondage or cause you to lose control of your thoughts or
will? Are you using your freedom to listen to this music as a
covering for your own evil desires? Are you violating your
conscience? Does it reflect Christ likeness? Does it bring glory
to God or detract from His glory?
Much of what is now popular in our society condones or
advocates things that are contrary to the virtues of godliness.
Listening to songs about people who are or want to cheat on their
spouses will not build you up in Christ. Hearing people sing
about how much they want to take drugs, get drunk or commit some
crime will not help you walk in holiness. Music that is designed
to turn your mind to mush and get your body pulsating to its beat
is bringing you into bondage. Songs that glorify man and his
accomplishments as opposed to God and His work do not reflect
Christ likeness. What is the moral virtue of the music you listen
8) If it is praise worthy (epainoV /
epainos). It is worthy for use in praising God or is it worthy of
His commendation. The music of worship is for God’s
pleasure, not our own. The quest is for the music to stimulate us
to praise the Lord for who He is and what He has done. How much
we like the song should not be an issue in worship music.
The characteristic of being praiseworthy also needs to be
applied to the secular music you listen to as well. Is it worthy
of God’s commendation. Or perhaps I can put it in very
simple terms. If Jesus was sitting next to you while you were
listening to this music, would He also be pleased? If not, then
perhaps you should consider listening to something else, because
Jesus Christ indwells the believer. He is always with you.
Let me close with two final practical comments. First,
Don’t be hypocritical. You must correct your own listening
habits too. Adults often complain, and often rightly so, about
some of the music their children listen too whether it is rock,
rap or something else. But be aware that much of what is in pop,
country, folk & jazz does not fit the criteria of Philippians
4:8 either. That doesn’t mean you should not be correcting
the listening habits of your children. It does mean that you need
to be correcting your own too.
And finally, Be selective with what you fill your ears and
mind. Don’t let some disc jockey who doesn’t care about God make
those decisions for you. Use music in the way that God intended
and not according to our adversaries design. If you don’t
have enough self-discipline to punch the selection switch when an
inappropriate song is played, then buy some tapes or CD’s
and fill your ears, mind and soul with music that is true,
honorable, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and
"Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to
For it pleasant, and praise is beautiful."
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your
children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children –
draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon.
Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older
Children : Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many
times any reference to music is made in the sermon 2) Discuss
with your parents the following: What is and is not good music.
How can music be used to help you walk with Christ? How you can
protect yourself music that has evil influences?
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others
What is the difference between form and content of music? Can
a musical form be evil? Why or why not? What are the
characteristics of good music for use in worship of God? What
three types of music should be used in worship? Explain each.
What is the tension between contemporary and traditional musical
forms and how can the problem be solved? What characteristics
would make a song a dangerous influence? What are the dangers of
mimicking the world’s musical forms? Under what conditions
could those styles be used for godly purposes? Explain each of
the eight characteristics of Philippians 4:8 and how they can be
applied to music you listen to for entertainment. (True, honest,
just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praise worthy).
What style(s) of music do you like? What makes it enjoyable to
you? How does it affect you emotionally? What style(s) do you
dislike? Why? How closely do you listen to the lyrics? Can you
sing with the song? What do you do if you find that the lyrics
promote what God says is evil? How much time per week do you
listen to music? How much money per month do you spend on music?
What steps can you take to make sure that music is used in your
life according to God’s design instead of the devil’s.
When will you make those steps?
Sermon Notes – August 17, 2003
Holy & Free Part 5 – Music Part 2
Music in Worship
Mimicking the World
The Character of Good Music
True: alhqhV / al’th’s
Honest/honorable: semnoV /
Just/right: dikaioV / dikaios
Pure: agnoV / hagnos
Lovely: prosfilhV / prosphil’s
Good Report/repute: eufhmoV /
Virtuous/excellent: areth /
Praise worthy: epainoV /