“I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more.” What? No more music? Who would stand for it? Is there anyone alive who could live without music?
A direct link exists between music and the human heart. It is a built-in function of each person. And, so, when God says that He will bring judgment upon a nation for their sins, and that part of the judgment is that music will cease, the horror of it should resonate in the soul of every person.
Furthermore, making music is linked to the presence of the Spirit of God and urged in the believer’s devotion to God:
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18-20).
The worship of the Lord through music is a key factor for Christians as they search for a church and decide the church they should belong to. Music has made some churches great, and has relegated others to secondary places.
Many churches select music for the purpose of drawing certain people. While the merits of such an approach can be debated, the principles of Scripture must always be the guide for the church, as believers gather in the name of Christ to worship Him.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
Should Christians sing only Christian songs? Much of the music in the world is appealing, without doubt. Whether it is a catchy tune, a racy beat, a country jig, or a love song, people flock to their music. The answer to the question depends on perspective and Christian maturity.
A flower is beautiful and should be admired. An unbeliever might look at the flower and be amazed by it, and wish he could make flowers like it. The Christian might look at the same flower and praise God for its beauty, design, and presence. The Christian might then go on to worship God for the flower. However, as beautiful as the flower is, it pales in the light of His glorious presence. It fails in the eternality of its maker, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
In the Bible, then, singing extols the virtues and acts of God.
“Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and spoke, saying: ‘I will sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!’” (Exodus 15:1).
“Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying: ‘When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD! Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel’” (Judges 5:1-3).
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
The book of Psalms is the hymnbook of the Bible. The songs of that great book have several classifications, including the following:
• Hymns – God is praised, “O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens” (Psa. 8:1).
• Penitential – God is beseeched for mercy, “Look on my affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins” (Psalm 25:18).
• Wisdom – God is sought for understanding, “Show me Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day” (Psalm 25:4-5).
• Royal – God reigns, “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies” (Psalm 110:1-2).
• Imprecatory – God judges, “This You have seen, O LORD; do not keep silence. O Lord, do not be far from me. Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, to my cause, my God and my Lord. Vindicate me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me” (Psalm 35:22-24).
In each case, God is worshipped for His merits. Any true worship, will follow this principle.
Worship in Spirit
The creation of music takes place every day. New songs continually flow forth from every venue. All this music is needed, too. What drives the insatiable need for more and more music? Humanly speaking, the nature of mankind is such that the appetites remain unsatisfied.
Unattended cravings grow continuously. Boredom pushes the listless heart to wander. Dissatisfaction leads to criticism. Monotony bogs down the heart. The Bible puts it this way, “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again. All things are full of labor; man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:7-8).
As loved as a song might be, too much of it will make anyone tired. New songs are needed, different songs. The dissatisfaction reflects the weakness of the flesh. It also reflects the inability of worldly things to provide ongoing satisfaction. True satisfaction is found only in the eternal, infinite God.
While people are bound in the world and the flesh, in Christ, through the presence of the Spirit, the Christian emerges into a realm where the presence of God is accessible, and genuine worship truly attained. The Bible exhorts true worshippers to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
To worship truly, whatever means are used must serve as a vehicle into the presence of God. This refers not only to the song, but the one singing it. Otherwise the worship is not true worship.
All Together Now
A gap exists between generations like never before. Age segregation in education was introduced sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. By the mid-twentieth century, age segregation was in full force in many societal settings besides education. And now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, each “generation” does their own thing, and has little interaction with or influence upon another.
The separation of the generations is having a negative impact on society. High-school aged kids get their advice in life from one another, and from how they are portrayed in the media. Honoring and obeying parents is often a foreign concept, and the willingness to sit still and learn quietly from someone older and more experienced in life is diminishing significantly.
The Bible is clear, though, on the family relationships that people have with one another. Children are to honor and obey their parents (cf. Ex. 20:12, Deut. 5:16, Eph. 6:1-3, Col. 3:20). Parents are to teach their children (cf. Deut. 6:7, Eph. 6:4). And, in the life of the church, the older men and women are to teach the younger (Titus 2:1-5, cf. 1 Tim. 1:18, Phil. 2:22, 1 Cor. 4:17).
Concerning worship, the young don’t like the dry, boring, old hymns. The older don’t like the frivolous, repetitive, and shallow, or the abrasive, irritating, and harsh contemporary songs. As a result, the generations are unable to worship together. Churches often create artificial boundaries in order to keep the peace. Even worse, congregations are formed based on preference of music. The people of the church should not be so self-absorbed. The result is fragmentation of the body of Christ, and as a whole, its testimony is weakened.
It is like Paul’s correction to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:12-13a, “Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided?”
At home, a person can eat (or sing) whatever they want. But when together with other people, especially the assembly for worship, there must be patience, latitude, learning, interaction, and engaging with one another:
“What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you…. Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment” (1 Cor. 11:22, 33-34a).
When the church meets for worship, humility before the Lord, and glorification of Him is needed. Let all the church meet with the intention of worshipping the Lord together.
All That is Good and Pleasing and Honorable and True
As was stated above, the Lord should be the focus of the worship. The content of the songs that are sung in worship should revolve around the Lord, His attributes, His works, and His deeds. The lyrics of the songs should be based on good theology and exalt the living God. The psalms are a rich treasure chest of theology.
But the mind need not be the only part of the person edified in worship. The repeated refrain of Psalm 136, “For His mercy endures forever” and the ceaseless “Holy, holy, holy” of the four living creatures are reminders that God is to be worshipped with the entire being, much like He is to be loved, “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30).
But, as long as the lyrics are good, is the song good? What kind of music is appropriate? This is much more subjective for it is difficult to gauge the effect that different kinds of music have on the emotions and the body. The effort, however, must be made.
In 1 Corinthians 14:33 it says, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” It is fair to conclude that any music that causes confusion would be more like to be displeasing to God than music that is orderly.
Music that stirs up sinful tendencies, such as lust, anger, or violence would also be displeasing. Music that is in line with the characteristics of God and His creative ways is the type of works that Christians should create as well. When God finished creating everything it says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31).
Why was it good? Maybe because it was beautiful, and orderly, and functional, and extra ordinary, and with purpose, and right, and full of wisdom. This is in contrast to a creation lacking these qualities, “For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other’” (Isaiah 45:18).
Music that perseveres through multiple generations is especially worthy of consideration. Such songs demonstrate qualities that resonate with the way mankind was created and the Christian desire to worship God. To suggest, however, that only old songs are good songs fails to take into account that God is still working in the lives of people today. It is like saying that the preacher should only read sermons of Spurgeon on Sunday morning instead of trying to create his own sermon. God is still at work. He has gifted people with the ability to create, and, therefore, people should create to the glory of God.
Therefore, the most impactful worship is probably the worship that includes a wide range of all the beautiful, honorable, and good music that has been created. Such an approach will help avoid the typical, repetitive worship that infrequently stirs the people to worship God, whether the music is contemporary or not.
Lift Up Your Hands and Shout for Joy
One last consideration concerns the mode of worship. The excesses of one group often become spurned by another. The solemn, reverential emphasis of one group is spurned by another group because it comes across as dead and lifeless. The joyous, emotional enthusiasm of one group is spurned by another group because it comes across as excessive and disrespectful.
Care must be taken not to bypass what Scripture allows because someone out there has messed it up or abused it. For example, clapping the hands is encouraged, and is a sign of joy, “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12, cf. Psa. 47:1).
As for shouting, the psalms make quite a few references to this little practiced expression of joy in the church, “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1).
And while the lifting of hands seems to be a frequent posture of prayer, the blessing of the Lord through song might rightly be included as well, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD” (Psalm 134:2).
Numerous psalms refer to the use of instruments in worship:
Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 150).
Finally, there is a time for the solemn, reverential worship of God, where a quiet spirit is proper and appropriate, “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker” (Psalm 95:6).
Praise the Lord among the People
God is worthy of worship. His people are called to assemble and lift up the name of the One whose Name is above all other names. Christians should strive to put themselves aside and focus on the One who redeemed them from their sins. That God has done such miraculous work in redeeming the believer should move each one from deep within the soul to lift up the heart and voice in praise to the Lord. “I will praise You, O LORD, among the peoples, and I will sing praises to You among the nations” (Psalm 108:3).
 Ezekiel 26:13 concerning the judgment of Tyre. See also Revelation 18:22 and the destruction of Babylon.
 Apparently, music sales last year were $15 billion dollars, and all money spent in the music industry reached $168 billion dollars.
 “The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev. 4:8).
The sentiment that the Bible does not tell us everything we need to know is becoming increasingly popular by supposed Bible-believing Christians.
Let me state unequivocally that this idea undermines the sufficiency of Scripture and is false.
Here is a paraphrase of what I read in a book recently by a popular Christian preacher. He said that if we use the Bible as a guidebook for daily living, we turn it into a Magic 8 Ball. He gave examples of turning to the Bible to find out whether or not we should drink alcohol or go see a certain movie. He said that turning to the Bible for such things confuses us, and only serves to butter up our spiritual egos.
He says that the Bible will not specifically answer every question we’ve got, “not by a longshot.” The Bible doesn’t tell us to marry Jane instead of Connie, to take a particular job, to go to a certain school, or to buy a minivan. To read the Bible as a daily manual for life is the “deficient way” to read it.
He said that his statements might make the hair on the back of our necks stand up, and, if so, we should shave our necks. Well, I don’t know about the hair on the back of my neck, but taking his advice, I probably need to cut my heart out.
I Know, I Know – I Admit It
I admit it. There were a few times early in my walk with Christ when I said, “Ok, Lord. Show me what to do. I need help.” I closed my eyes, opened the Bible, and pointed. Other times I opened the Bible, and started reading until I got to something that I thought spoke to the situation I was dealing with. This kind of use of Scripture is akin to turning the Bible into a Magic 8 Ball, and I do not recommend it.
God has given us His Word and His Spirit to direct us in the course of this life, for His glory. Is it always easy to figure out what we are supposed to do? No. But for us who love the Lord, we will continue to strive to understand His will for us, even if we are often childlike in our understanding and approach to things.
Where in the World Are All the Answers to Life?
Has God left us without direction? How are we supposed to find out what we are supposed to do and what we are not supposed to do? How do we find a God-pleasing-way in a broken world?
There are numerous places we might turn for help in making the decisions of life. To help us make decisions, we might look to:
- our own desires, comfort, and pleasure
- our own reasoning, wisdom, and thinking
- our parents
- our pastors, and anyone else in authority over us
- our elders, who have the wisdom and experience of life
- our family and friends who love us and care for our well-being
God can use each of these and other things to direct us. In each case, however, we must be cautious. We live in a fallen world, and everything is broken by sin. Our desires are skewed. Our thinking is skewed. Our parents, pastors, elders, and every other person out there, is skewed. Sin is to blame.
One thing, however, is inerrant and infallible, and that is the Word of God. While we still have to be cautious about rightly understanding it, it is a clear and unshakable source of wisdom given to us by God, for our benefit, and, ultimately, His glory.
So, Which Shoes Should I Wear Today?
The Bible does not tell us what clothes we should put on tomorrow, or what car to buy, or if some guy should marry Sally, or if I should go to McDonald’s for lunch. We are not given instruction in the particulars of life. Who would question that?
The Bible gives us the universals for life. These are the principles and instructions by which we would wisely judge the particulars of life. The Bible tells us that believers should marry other believers. That principle may in fact tell that young guy that he cannot marry Sally, in particular. Or, it may give the same guy the freedom to marry Sally, if Sally is a believer.
The Bible tells us to dress modestly. That may rule out some particular articles of clothing, and provide freedom to choose others.
The Bible tells us not to love the world or the things of the world. That might rule out my purchase of a sleek, metallic blue, Maserati, but give me the freedom to purchase a number of other vehicles.
Do All to the Glory of God
Someone might object, “But the Bible is not about me. It is about God.” That is true, for sure, but glorifying God is directly tied to the decisions of my life. After all, I live to the glory of God in this world, in front of all its inhabitants in my little sphere of influence.
For example, the whole book of Proverbs gives principles about how we should live. It tells us how we should work and how we should sleep and how we should eat. It warns us against laziness, cheating, and immoral women.
The Bible tells us to love, give, be humble, be kind, obey, and pray. It is full of instruction to us, and each instruction is to benefit to us, and to glorify to God.
I love 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” We honor and glorify God in every decision we make, even in such mundane, temporal things as eating and drinking.
Scripture Is Sufficient
Now, I understand that the Word of God does not provide us with all the particular answers in life. Nevertheless, the Word of God occupies a unique place in creation.
To say that it does not have the answers to life’s particular choices is to dumb down its position in the world and in the life of people. Rather, we should say that it provides the principles necessary for every decision we will ever be faced with.
Maybe this is simply a matter of semantics. I don’t know. But in a world where war is waged against Christianity and all its elements, Christians should hold up what is right and true. In a world where weak and nominal Christians are honestly faced with hard choices in life, they need to be encouraged that they can find what they are looking for.
Scripture is sufficient in providing all that is necessary for life and godliness. In it we have what is necessary for our relationship to God and godly living,
“… the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
 Please don’t take what I am saying as critical of the author. This is an exchange of ideas of one small point in a much longer book. The rest of the book that this came from was a blessing, an encouragement, and true to the Word. I would recommend it to every Christian.
We live in a day in which extreme violence seems to be the mentality in striking back against those who have wronged us or who threaten us. We are faced with real questions about the extent to which we would go in order to defend ourselves or our loved ones. Who would not claim the right to self-defense? But how far can self-defense be taken? while our natural tendency might cause us to rise and stand up for ourselves, the Bible makes only rare allowance for self-defense to the death of the offender, and encourages restraint.
The Old Testament and Defending the Defenseless
To fully address the question of self-defense in the Bible would require studying the defense of defenseless people, like the poor, the widow, and the orphan. The largest defenseless group, however, would be the nation of Israel itself, with God as its defender. Assyria was a powerful nation, which threatened every nation, including God’s people. But God said, “I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake” (cf. Isaiah 37:33-36). He then sent out an angel that killed nearly two hundred thousand soldiers of the enemy army.
Striking to the Death
The Old Testament gets a little more direct, though. Numbers 35:15-24 speaks of the death of a person as a result of an altercation, whether premeditated or not. If someone dies, even as the result of being pushed or punched, the attacker is guilty of murder.
While the passage does not address self-defense explicitly, it does not exclude it, either. This can be seen in another passage dealing with home invasion, Exodus 22:1-3. Theft is the focus, but if the thief breaks in during the night and is struck to the death, the attacker is not guilty of murder. This is the only time allowance is made to strike to the death in self defense. If the break-in takes place during the day, however, the attacker would be guilty of murder if he struck the intruder to the death.
Addressing the “why’s” of these laws is not too difficult to wrestle out of the verses, but a principle emerges. In the Old Testament, when in a conflict (which is not condemned, by the way), restraint must be shown. You do not want to strike and kill the other person. His blood will be on your head if you do. Such fighting might be likened to the “gentleman’s fight” of recent centuries. I fear, however, that the idea of a fair fight has all but vanished in our day.
Turn the Other Cheek
When we come to the New Testament, the principle of restraint in conflict is extended. Jesus said that if we are struck or taken advantage of, not to resist, but to go the extra mile.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two (Matthew 5:38-41).
Rather than restraining in dealing a death blow, Jesus is encouraging restraint in defending oneself.
Some might say, “Okay. I can turn the other cheek concerning myself, but don’t come against my family.” I definitely resonate with that, but whether it’s me or mine, the principle remains.
Our nature cries out against that. There are so many things about that which seem wrong to our sensibilities. I guess that is part of the point that Jesus is making. But that is a different topic for another time.
Don’t Deal a Death Blow
Moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we move further and further in a particular direction. The conclusion is this, show restraint and don’t deal a death blow. Put your trust in the Lord. He is our shield and defender, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me” (Psa. 138:7).
 I believe that the events of Esther and Nehemiah involve the nation of Israel as a whole and fall under the same guidelines of God as the defender of His people.
 These six cities shall be for refuge for the children of Israel, for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills a person accidentally may flee there. But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he strikes him with a stone in the hand, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he strikes him with a wooden hand weapon, by which one could die, and he does die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death. The avenger of blood himself shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he shall put him to death. If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies, or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him. However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait, or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments (Numbers 35:15-24).
 If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft (Exodus 22:1-3).