Does music matter? Imagine the Lord of the Rings movies without the score. The epic journey the film captures so well, evaporates without the music. We want people to show up for the entire worship service and not just pop in when the sermon starts. We want them to sing, even if they are tone-deaf, and not sit watching the band perform. We want their Spotify playlists filled with music that will awaken them to the glory of God. We want all this because music, in God’s hand, is powerful. Music matters because God is the great composer, using music to complete His people and display His glory.
Singing and Salvation
The Israelites sing immediately after God saves them. When the door of the Red Sea slams in the face of the Egyptian army, the Israelites immediately grab their instruments. “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea”” (Exodus 15:1). They sing because God saves.
Later in Israel’s history, Zephaniah prophesies that once again, God will save his people. In response, he calls Israel to: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” A couple of verses later, Zephaniah says even God will sing. “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 3:14, 17). Not only do the people sing because God saves, but God Himself sings. People whistle while they work, God sings while He saves.
I have only met one person who claimed not to enjoy music. Twenty minutes later, he left work wearing headphones enjoying Pink Floyd. From singing in the shower, to movie soundtracks, and to singing with the congregation on the Lord’s Day, the notes of our lives are musical. God made music an important part of life, especially our life in Christ.
Music Helps Us Grow in Christ
Paul connects music to growing in Christ in two places. In Colossians 3:16, he exhorts Christians to: “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.” Ephesians 5:18-19 likewise says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Singing is one outcome Christ’s word dwelling in us and being filled by the Spirit. When we sing, we admonish one another to know the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:17) and put on the character of godliness (Colossians 3:5, 12).
I love hip-hop music from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. During my early twenties, I listened, almost exclusively, to artists like Mos Def and Wu-Tang Clan. I wrote and produced music then, and tried to capture the sound and style of those artists. At the same time, I went through a crisis of faith. As I tried to capture their sound their music captured my heart, forcing me to take a hard look at my music choices. Paul says in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” Songs sow seeds in our minds and our hearts. My music choices had sowed a bad seed and reaped a crisis of faith. Christians can listen to, and enjoy, and even be helped by music that is not explicitly Christian, but remember that what we listen to inevitably shapes us. Music is not neutral. Music is formative.
We reap good things from the seed of good music. Robert S. Smith observes that “the words of a song not only enable the communication and reception of the cognitive content of the song, but the singing of them facilitates the expression and evocation of the emotional reality of that content.”[i] Good music helps us know God, feel affection for Him, and rightly express that in worship. Music helps us think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, filled with excellence and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8) and moves our hearts to cherish beauty and goodness.
The songs we sing in worship services and the songs created by Christian artists help us grow as Christians. They also serve as a witness to the gospel. Music testifies to God’s glory. Specifically, it testifies to His glory in uniting diverse people into one body in Christ.
Music Testifies to God’s Glory
Creation glorifies God by singing His praise. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The sun rises and sets in a rhythm of joy-filled praise (Psalm 19:5). When some Pharisees rebuke Jesus for allowing people to praise him, he responds that, “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Even if the crowd closes their mouths, creation rumbles, ready to explode in song, praising His glory.
All creation gladly joins the song, except for sin-filled people. While everyone else sings, we turn and run. We want to play football, not join the choir. Fallen humanity refuses to sing, but Jesus refuses to let us sulk and stay silent. The gospel brings humanity back into the song. Revelation chapters 4-5 open the curtain to the praise in heaven. Kicking-off at the four living creatures around the throne (Revelation 4:8, 5:8-9) heaven’s praise cascades over the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:10-11, 5:8-9), myriads of angels (Revelation 5:11-12) pouring over every creature “in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” (Revelation 5:13). Together they sing, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13). The Lamb who is worthy of glory because He can open the scroll is the Lamb who was slain for the salvation of sinners. Now those saved by the blood of the Lamb unite with all of heaven in a song of praise to God.
Singing is a good, pleasant, and fitting response to receiving the special mercy of Christ (Psalm 147). When Christians sing God’s praise, they testify to the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ who saves (2nd Corinthians 4:4).
Music Testifies to the Harmony of God’s People
Jesus has accomplished unity between people of diverse ethnicities because “[He] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14). Yet division and conflict often fall along ethnic lines. The banner of ethnic superiority supported some horrifying crimes in history. Whether Hitler’s campaign to exterminate the Jewish people or the apartheid in South Africa, history gushes with examples of how fierce this hostility can become. The gospel, though, gives believers a powerful voice, because this is the exact hostility Jesus died to destroy. Jesus reconciles us to God and each other. The gospel, therefore, is the only hope for racial harmony and hope is sure because Jesus creates “in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). He kills the hostility and makes peace (Ephesians 2:16). More than merely tolerating other people, in Christ there is harmony where once there was only hostility.
The melody of gospel unity sounds forth from the church’s hymnody. When we sing together, our voices unite in one sound of praise. The Book of Revelation shows one people, from every tribe and nation, in one voice, praising one God, through one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:9-10). In a world composed of division, Christ’s Church sings in harmony. Shai Linne summarizes it well, saying, “There are few things in this world more powerful than a gathering of Christians joyfully and passionately singing God’s praises together, submitting themselves to the truth of God’s Word and reminding themselves that they are united around Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and exalted.”[ii]
Gospel-saturated music binds people together in Christ. When we sing with other Christians, a divided world sees the supreme glory of Jesus Christ, who alone tears down the wall of hostility.
It is Good to Sing
Reading the Psalms, we hear a call to sing almost every page. We don’t read Scripture’s songbook passively. These calls are when the conductor turns, inviting us to “sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Psalm 96:1). Singing expresses and deepens our joy in Christ. “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4).
With music from many cultures and spanning many generations, God has blessed us with a rich history and variety of music. Allen P. Ross says it well, “When we think of the thousands of hymns that have been written, the grand musical compositions, and the variety of sounds and expressions, it is overwhelming. What devotion! What jubilation! There is so much available to make worship glorious, so much to make praise new every morning, if we would just step out of our set patterns and away from our favorite songs from time to time to discover it.”[iii] Turn on some music, sing with God’s people, and enjoy the wonder of worship.
[i] Robert S. Smith, “Belting out the Blues as Believers: The Importance of Singing Lament,” Themelios 42, no. 1 (2017): 99–100.
[ii] https://www.9marks.org/article/yes-singing-really-does-change-people/ accessed August 20, 2021
[iii] Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory (Kregel Academic and Professional; 1st edition, 2006) 507