The Music We Listen to

I received an assignment in my English class to write a paper on an issue that causes debate among our young people. When I chose my topic, I wanted to choose something that we all encounter every day. We use it so often, probably not even realizing how often until we stop to think about it. We may use it in the car on the way to school or work, at work, at home, at school, or even at church! We use other people’s, we can use it by ourselves or with large groups of people. Yes, the topic I chose is music!

First, I’d like to give a little background and some facts about music. There seems to be lots of discrepancy in the world as to when music was first experimented with. Some say it was around 500 B.C. when the Greeks began experimenting with vibrations and acoustics. We know music to have existed earlier — Genesis 4:20 “And his brother’s name was Jubal: and he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.” Here we are told of Jabal, Jubal, and Tubalcain, some of the early inventors. This music was passed on through the generations. Music has a large place in the Bible. I’ll expand on music’s role in the Bible later.

Music has been shown to be powerful in the way it affects human thinking and behavior. It can affect people’s emotion, changing their mood. Many studies have shown the effects that music has on the brain, from calming people, increasing focus, or even helping people coordinate muscle movements with the beat of music as a form of therapy. Music can be used for a variety of things other than our own pleasure.

I turn now to the use of music throughout the history of the Church. The Bible has many examples of music being used as a means of communication, not as entertainment. David wrote of music many times as a means of praise. Psalm 33:3 “Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” 1 Chronicles 16:9, “Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.” The New Testament church sang as well. Jesus sang with His disciples in Matthew 26:30 “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the Mount of Olives.” Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

It has become clear that God has given us the gift of music and encouraged, even demanded that we use it to glorify His name. That’s the issue we’re considering. Sometimes we use music in a way that isn’t glorifying to God. Is there a rule on the kinds of music we can listen to or play? Is there a line that we can’t cross?

This is a matter that I think is pretty clear cut, but yet there is still lots of discussion (among teens especially) about “how bad” it can be to listen to different forms of music.

It’s common among our young people to say that we can listen to almost anything, as long as we acknowledge that certain things in the music are wrong such as partying, lusting, or even sexual acts. Ephesians 5:8,10-11 would say differently. “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light…Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” So here we have the command in the negative, what NOT to do. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” In Philippians 4:8,9 we find the positive command, what we ARE to do.“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”

How does this apply to music? We have seen how music was used in worship in the Bible times, but how do we use it today?

Romans 15:9-11 speaks of praising God. “And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.” There was some bitterness and resentment between the Jews and Gentiles during this time; Paul was pointing out that music unites the body of believers in their worship. We do the same today. When we sing in church, we lift our voice as one congregation.

We are to sing in church. We are to sing His praises outside of church. The church has passed down many God-glorifying hymns, aside from the many Psalms that were inspired by God Himself. Can we sing songs other than these Psalms and hymns?

Yes. We very commonly teach our children nursery rhymes, little ditties that are easy to remember. We teach them to play the piano and organ, among other musical instruments. Very commonly we learn to play other simple tunes before we play Psalter numbers or hymns. When we are advanced enough, we learn to play elaborate pieces composed by people of all different religious backgrounds. They can be referred to as “classical” pieces. These things are all still glorifying to God! We are using our God-given abilities, using the gifts of music in a way that is pleasing to Him!

Now we get to the heart of the matter. What are we listening to or singing when we’re in the vehicle, at work, or in our room? Is that just as glorifying to God as what we sing in church? I think back to a speech at the Young People’s Convention by Rev. Mahtani. The main topic of the speech was being a witness, not being ashamed of the gospel. For a few moments, though, he touched on the music we listen to as Protestant Reformed Young People. I don’t remember his exact wording; but he said that we may very well listen to songs by some bands that aren’t dubbed Christian; in fact, many songs that are “Christian” really are not! His conclusion to the matter was that we have to consider if the music choice is benefiting us. It should be bringing us hope and comfort. It should help us to grow in our love for God and the truths of His Word.

I quoted it already, but I think it can be brought out again. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” This is God speaking to us through His Word. When Paul wrote these words, I doubt if he was listening to a song dishonoring women; I don’t think he was listening to something that encouraged drinking, smoking, dancing, or other worldly activities. I don’t remember where I heard this, but it has stuck with me: “If Jesus were in the car with you, working with you, or hanging out with you, would you be listening to this?” It’s a good reminder. It’s good because it’s true! God is omnipresent. He is with us in the car. He is with us when we’re working. He is there when we’re hanging out with friends.

Let all of this be in our minds from day to day; let everything we sing, play, or listen to bring glory and honor to God’s name!

Derk Burgers

The Beauty of the Song

How amazing is the human voice! To think of it, more intricate than any man-made instrument, dwelling within the fabric of our bodies. How amazing is music in general, with its complexity and order in the execution of the various chords and rhythms. Music is a fascinating means of communication and expression that God has granted to His people, and it would be difficult to envision a life devoid of this gift. Indeed, music has pervaded our entire culture in different genres and contexts. As a heaven-oriented people we are given a specific attitude and purpose towards this great gift of song.

An unknown author once wrote “We cannot actively attempt the creation of something beautiful without reference to Beauty itself, Who is God.” This holds true in music as well. All of creation reflects and bears testimony of its Creator. Music has to it a certain complexity in its movement, timing, and interweaving of the various notes. Yet too through this intricacy is a beautiful order. All of this reflects the mighty hand of our orderly God. Music in its essence and apart from any application and intent of man bears witness of its Creator and gives praise and glory to Him.

We, who have been gifted with music, have a specific calling in what we do with it and how we use it. “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Colossians 3:23). We make music and use our talents to the best of our ability for our God on high. Great is the Lord, and worthy of praise! The Psalms repeat this over and over, and how rightly so! How great a God we have, Who is so mighty and just and merciful–Who holds all things in His hand! Who orders our lives and lets not even a hair of our head fall to the ground without His direction and His will for us! Who has given us, who were “black” and repulsive with the stains of sin, great worth and glory in Him, making us His beautiful and “comely” Bride (alluding to Song of Solomon 1:5)! We have our life in Him, and thus we do all things to Him and for His glory (I Corinthians 10:30), seeking to draw closer to Him in all that we do. We use our talents to praise Him, to thank Him. In music we strive to magnify His holy name.

It is important then in the light of this that we have the correct attitude when we make music. Because we use music to glorify and worship our Lord, we treat it differently than the world does. Though praise may indeed bring us great enjoyment and happiness, we must be wary with our music that we do not use it for our own fleshly desires.

Likewise, we do not sing or make music to draw attention to ourselves. If we are making music only to delight in our talent, or if we sing praise only to hear the sounds of our own voices, we cannot expect that we are worshipping God, but rather music itself or our own talent. Surely the most off-tune man singing his heart out to the Lord is more honoring than the most beautiful warbler, whose heart is not focused on to Whom she is singing and why.

This is of deeper emphasis when lyrics are added to the music, such as in the singing of the Psalms. The music is no longer simply a tune, but a message. In the instance of the Psalms it may be a message of pleas to God (Ps. 74), a message of adoration, perhaps telling of God’s greatness, mercy or power (Ps 103:9-11 and Ps 7:1,2), or a message of thanksgiving (Ps 95). Whatever message the song may have, the Psalms are all songs of praise, for they all give glory and honor to the One on Whom our soul depends. They are a prayer–a song directed to and about God and His relationship with His people.  The singer in the presence of the Lord proclaims His deeds and attributes and cries out to Him.

When singing words we must keep in mind one more thing. We must know what we are saying. Psalm 47:7 instructs us to “sing ye praises with understanding” (emphasis my own). We cannot simply make vain repetitions. Just as we cannot expect to praise God if we are singing only to hear the sound of our own voice, we also cannot expect to worship our Lord if we aren’t even aware of the words we are speaking. If we only sing a song because it is familiar, we enjoy how the tune goes, or everyone else is singing it…we’re doing it wrong. We are communicating with the Most High God and King of all Creation (and also walk as examples to those around us)! We cannot take that lightly!

Last of all, let us continue to sing and make songs of praise! What a gift we have been given, to be able to lift up our voices to our Maker, or to take up our instruments to glorify His name! To even be allowed to come into the presence of our King and Savior! Scripture over and over commands us to praise the Lord with music, and what a beautiful thing that is! Let us make song!


Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely. (Psalm 147:1)

Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints. (Psalm 149:1)

Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. (Psalm 33:2)

Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. (Psalm 47:6)