With over 750 direct references to music in the Bible, this is an issue of no small significance in Scripture.
I’ve written before on biblical purposes for music as well as on music and worship.
Sometimes, however, in lengthy studies or lists, especially in a subject as nuanced as music, we miss the essential and direct biblical directives.
Gather several Baptist pastors and music directors together, and you could discuss issues related to melody, rhythm, syncopation, association, instrumentation, and culture’s bearing on it all for a long time. (And it could be meaningful and helpful discussion!)
But in all the discussions about music, may we not miss the two essentials God gave us in one of the most direct New Testament passages on the subject:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.—Colossians 3:16
What We Sing
A Barna study found that the focus in modern church music is often not on proclaiming the truth about God or to God, but rather on personal entertainment. “Most Americans go to church to satisfy or please themselves, not to honor or please God.” A much larger percentage of Americans claim that they attend worship services for personal benefit and pleasure than to worship and know God.
Yet, when it comes to the music God calls us to use as spiritual Christians to teach and admonish one another, He gives us three specific categories.
- Psalms—This refers to putting Scripture to music. Of course, the book of Psalms itself was a songbook for the Jews. Some of the songs we sing in church have words directly from Scripture (often from Psalms), and some are songs that are completely comprised of a verse or passage. The Word of God will always exalt and bring praise to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Hymns—Hymns are expressions of praise to God for who He is and what He has done. It is thought that some portions of the New Testament such as Colossians 1:15–20 and Philippians 2:6–11 were originally hymns sung in the early church. Our modern-day hymns express worship to God.
- Spiritual Songs—The Greek word for spiritual is pneumatika, which means “of the spirit.” Spiritual songs express in song the testimony of what God has done for us. These also serve to admonish us and strengthen our faith when they contain true doctrine from God’s Word.
For instance, when we sing a song with lyrics such as “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,” the song admonishes us to save souls from Hell by sharing the gospel with them. When we sing the lyrics “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine,” it confirms what the Bible teaches about who we are and what we have in Christ.
How We Sing
But too many Christians who care about godly music stop here—with determining what we should sing.
The same verse that tells us what we should sing tells us how we should sing—with grace in our hearts to the Lord!
We should not only have the right kind of songs, but we should also have the right spirit in singing them. Both are important to the Lord!
- With Grace—The attitude in our corporate worship should be one of grace—our response to God’s Word and God’s work in our hearts.
- To the Lord—The audience of our singing should be the Lord Himself. When singing is Spirit-generated and Bible-centered, it will always focus on the Lord and to the Lord.
Since Scripture speaks much to the subject of music, we should care much about it. But our emphasis in it should be where God’s emphasis is—on Him!