Spiritual songs versus songs for enjoyment

My last post was on praising God with the gift of music. In that post I expressed how music is to be used to the glory of God, and is not made for ourselves. Though it may be enjoyable to us, we do not simply make music for our enjoyment and to have a good time as the end purpose. We do not make music to “fulfill fleshly desires.” The argument was made, then, in response, that this seemed a bit fuzzy… I was forgetting to mention that we can use music for a good time with the right perspective, just as one can read books for fun and entertainment, as long as one is discretionary and mindful that God gives us these things as gifts to be used rightly. I had made no separation between the ungodly songs of the world, and fun songs. I dealt only with “spiritual” music (that is, music of worship and praise), and left out the idea of innocent entertainment, condemning then all music of entertainment as wrong. The question that arises consequently is, Is there in fact a line that should be drawn? How are we to treat the idea of songs for enjoyment?

If there is a group of children during recess that is singing a fun little chant they have just learned about the state capitols, is that a good thing or a bad thing? The lyrics surely reference nothing “religious”, but one would be quite hesitant to call the song of these giggling children secular or unchristian either. So what is the “standard?”

Scripture clearly states that we are to do all things to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).  That is what determines what is “right”, or what is “wrong.” All life apart from God is sin and vanity. Our spiritual life is not separate from our physical life–they are one and the same. For what is life but a temporary pilgrimage, wherein we ready ourselves for that life to come (Hebrews 11:13,14)? “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). The whole of this life is a continual race that we run (Hebrews 12:1,2) with the “finish line” being “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:14). One is living for God or one is not–we cannot live two lives (one for God and one for this world) separately (Matthew 6:24).  Either what we do is for the glory of God, or it is not.

In the same way then, either we use music to glorify God or we do not.  All that we sing must be sung to the glorification of God, whether it be a little ditty that schoolchildren sing to remember their facts or a hymn sung at a singspiration.

So can we then listen to or sing “fun songs?” Or really engage in any form of entertainment? Yes. But it is less a matter of what kind of song it is, and more a matter of one’s motive and heart. Perhaps you are using such pleasures and entertainment, as Rev. Kuiper writes in “The Christian and Entertainment”, “as a means or relaxation to serve God the better”, or “as a means unto better health”, or–in the instance of the schoolchildren–to learn different facts and concepts. God has given “a time to every purpose under the heaven” and a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1). He has given good gifts for our labor that we may enjoy (Ecclesiastes 3:13).  But this is not separate from our calling to glorify God in all that we do. Entertainment can never stand as a goal in and of itself (as Rev. Kuiper goes on to speak of in his article), but as a means to the greater purpose of glorifying God in that act, word, or deed. And as such, is good, acceptable, and profitable.

In connection with this we must be critical of ourselves as we sing “songs of entertainment.” First, that we must watch our hearts and our motives for singing such songs, lest we deceive ourselves with excuses and justifications that we are doing it “for God’s glory,” when we are really, in fact, only using such reasoning to justify our own original desires. If this is the case, our motive is hardly God’s glorification, but rather our own wants justified with secondary excuses. In doing this we are not seeking to serve God, but rather ourselves.

This is a hard race to run. We as depraved sinners on this earth so often fall into the trap of seeking after our own desires and the things of this earth, “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19,20). Sin “doth so easily beset us” (Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, we must “watch and pray,” for our spirit may be very willing to serve our Lord and Savior, but our flesh is utterly weak (Matthew 26:41).

We too are so easily deceived with the idea that we need to be happy in this life. We easily make pleasure a goal and motivation. But our goal is not a happy, easy, and pleasurable life. Our goal is not to have time to relax or to have fun in life, though we may enjoy that rightly and thankfully, as I have stated, when we are gifted with it. Prof Hanko rightly reflects this idea in “The Christian and the Film Arts,” wherein he states, “We have interpreted joy and happiness in terms of a can of beer at a local tavern, a bloody game of professional football, forty miles an hour on water skis behind a speedboat (or, more in connection with the context of this post, perhaps, the music rolling from our car windows as we drive down the road; ADV). We have forgotten and denied that true joy and pleasure is to be found in the keeping of God’s commandments and in seeking the things which are above. The joy of the Lord is lost in the superficial and hollow laughter of pleasure.” And when it comes to our physical or emotional health, Dr. Larry Crabb in “Finding God” writes, “Feeling better has become more important than finding God…” But as we read in Luke 8:14, “That which fell among the thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.”

In reality, even to strive for a life of happiness and pleasure, above striving first for God and His promises, is vanity. This life, because of the curse of sin, will always be one of sin, suffering, and imperfection.  We always will have troubles, discontents, boredom, and what have you. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also (emphasis mine), which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:22,23). However, whatever our troubles in this life may be, if we look to God rather than our own “control,” we have the promise that “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). Just as He is the only source of true life, He is also our only source of true comfort and pleasure in this present life.

The second thing that we must be critical of, concerning the songs and music that we make, is the contents of what we sing as entertainment. Is it suitable for the lips of the servant of God, or does it like the comely meat of Babylon, which was offered to Daniel, give glory to idol gods of this world (Daniel 1, and see also “Refusing the King’s Meat” by Rev. Allen Brummel)? It may look good and very attractive. Like the meat of Babylon it may look nourishing to the soul. But who does it serve? And now one may say, “Yes, but cannot I partake, knowing that those idols are not God, and that I in my heart choose not to worship them in eating this meat?” Ah, but do you still partake? And who do you serve by doing so? And is not the life more than meat (Matthew 6:25)?

What a difficult race we have to run, and discerning we must be in all that we do! But yet, what a wondrous God we have! We are a “contradiction of sinners” (Hebrews 12:3) with bodies that are “dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10)! We have a Lord who is faithful in His promises, and though we be sinful, He is the Lord and He changes not, so that we His people be not consumed (Malachi 3:6). He is our Guide, and as His sheep it is His “good pleasure to give” us “the kingdom.” He will come for those who put their hearts and treasure in Him and will sit them down with His meat, “and will come forth and serve them.” He will always be with us as we run this race, and we will find true nourishment, pleasure, and contentment, in Him.

 

“At Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” –Psalm 16:11

 “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.” –Psalm 51:15

 

ADV

One thought on “Spiritual songs versus songs for enjoyment

  1. The article covers a lot and should make us all examine what we do and why, and also make us seriously seek the Lord about everything!

    Like

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