music paper, part one

The following was written for a friend of mine, with the hopes that it would be found to be generally helpful. It’s extremely long, so if you do desire to read it, it might be better to copy and paste it t your OS’s word processor.

In writing the following short piece I have three objectives in view:
1. To show why our music choices really matter.
2. To look at a few aspects of what Scripture teaches us concerning music.
3. To show, by means of example, that there are ways we can redeem the use of our musical devices or PDAs. The following was researched, written, and edited completely on an iPhone.

To attempt to in some ways uncover how we can be biblical in our music choices implies a risk. It is a risk to any who study it, because it will bind us to a higher level of accountability if we search for the will of God concerning a matter, and yet do not submit it to Him; it furthermore implies risk as far as the author who writes such things for others is concerned, because he is putting himself in the vulnerable position of proclaiming a standard that may be higher than the one to which he adheres. So with these risks in plain view, from hence we are able to look at the broad spectrum which such a subject encompasses.

So the first thing that it behoves us to ask in view of such a subject is the obvious blanket question: What is Music?

Music resembles poetry in that it is a form of communication that resonates with humankind, created in God’s image, in a way that normal, verbal communication never does: music and poetry reach down into our sentient beings, and have the ability to address and express the soul in a profound way. Passions, be these love or anger or fear or adoration or anything else across the spectrum of human emotion find ways to speak and be spoken to through venues of music and poetry that normal, straightforward speech never afford. As our spiritual grandfather Jonathan Edwards would have it, “The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other, is by music.” Which is as much to say, that music is in many ways a deeper way to say something than plain dialogue.

The Bible is as clear regarding this matter as anything else; the Psalms, which are not only to be found in the large collection in the center of the Old Testament but are scattered throughout scriptures, are the overflowing expression of an overwhelmed heart to communicate more than plain facts. They are musical and poetical expressions of subjective responses to objective reality. God’s saints worship Him through song; people employ music in celebration as well as mourning; we as individuals use music in our emotional responses to life. When we are joyful, when we are depressed, music can be both our consolation and our simple venting expression of what we are feeling.
So it light of this, would it be at all fair to submit that the music to which we listen, and the songs we sing, though they are not to be stand alone points of assessment, are in a very real way the outworking of what is in our hearts? Whether we listen to emotion driven, teary eyed worship songs, or hedonistic eighties rock, what we listen to shows either where our minds are or where we desire to take them. When I miss somebody, my first inclination is to listen to emotion driven songs (which make absolutely no sense whatsoever) about parting, or saying goodbye or the like. If listening to secular music, the reason is not necessarily that my mind is where the singer’s may be, but because I feel laid back with the way the world is going and I am really not concerned with being ‘on guard’.

My proposition, and I am open to it being called into question, is that:
Music is an Outworking Expression of the Captivity of Our Minds.
2 Corinthians 10:5 puts the thought-life forward as the central heartbeat for militant Christian living. Our minds are not neutral spiritual territory between intimate worship and outward lifestyle and activism: they are ground-zero for bringing our lives under the happy banner of our freedom in Christ.
It is part of the image of God on our souls that our minds are never allowed to shut down and remain in an amoral place (sleep is the closest we’re allowed to come). They are in constant captivity to something, to which we are bound as if by a chain to run to as soon as they are free from outside concerns. To the extent to which our mind runs to something when in no situation where we have to apply effort to fix our thoughts on something at hand, to that extent we are captivated in our minds to that particular object. In a beautiful and real way, we say a man in love is a captive because as soon as his mind is free to wander, it runs automatically to the object of his affections. A man who is obsessed with work will allow thoughts of his vocation to distract him even when he is not bound to be thinking about it. Our minds are always captive to something, and these are the grounds on which Christ demands that our thoughts be fettered to Him.
The way in which music resonates with our souls as human beings is without a doubt a gift of God; though it’s earthly form first originated with sinful man (Genesis 4:21) it has been employed in worshipping God throughout the entire history of His covenant people. Music, at the bare minimum of what that means, is in no way a bad thing; indeed most indicators are to the opposite effect. The fact that it is a medium easily adapted to the mood and beliefs of the person enjoying it is what in fact causes it to be such a positive indicator of who, or what, sits on the Throne of the inner man.

What is it we turn to when we desire to divert our mind, if just for a minute, from the pressing matters which surround us in normal life? What music are we most inclined towards when we are bored, and require some sort of stimulate for our thoughts? It would be easy, by a cultivated, legalistic standard to keep ourselves eternally bound within the realms of what is acceptable, but as a general rule we will follow whatever happens to be our personal bent. And our bent reveals the deeper matter of whatever it may be to which our every thought is captive.
Let it be a captive to self, and we will seek that which we find best suited to our interest. If we desire to be tickled by a romantic sensation, even without a specific object, then we listen perhaps to some song with catchy rhymes ironically mixed into poor poetry comprising lyrics which really make no sense whatsoever.

There are a thousand other examples which could be employed: but that would only cause us to make “do and don’t” lists and would not address the root issue. The bottom line is that we as individuals best display who it is that possesses our hearts by what we love. In music and every realm of life, what we love, (what delights us, what claims our thoughts, what we desire) is every bit as important as what we do: are we carnal or are we spiritual? Are we, in our music choices, living according to the flesh and its inclinations or according to the Spirit and His promptings?

How has 1 John 2:15ff shaken the way we look at music?
Are we delighted at the thought of God, and are our souls made glad by music that pertains to the things of His Gospel, and all the wonderful things he gives us in life? Or is there a closeness and comfortableness with the world? are our music choices saturated with: 1) the lust of the flesh, in our music that fosters the feeling of desperation to be accepted, noticed, needed by members of the opposite sex; that cultivate the emotions which come so naturally, but ought to warred against? At worst, are we comfortable with music styles that encourage longing for some level of physical attachment?
2) The lust of the eyes: so much of what we listen to, though we be unconscious of it, promotes the principle that already exists in fallen man that we deserve what we want, and ought to obtain it. Does our music put forth a philosophy of hedonism, trying to entrap us in the lie that we will somehow obtain happiness in something this world has to offer, be it fame or acceptance, technology or entertainment, cars or money, guns or trucks (if country happens to be to your taste)? We ought to delight in the good things that are in this world which the Father gives us, but these are not to be the objects of our supreme desire.
3) or the pride of life? Does our music foster in any sense a confidence in and dependence on self; are we affirmed in our accomplishments and personalities; do we even go so far as to choose certain music in order to standout and be popular? Pride is a difficult malady to address, because it is rooted into the deepest part of who we are, and is completely antonymous to grace. Suffice it to say that whenever we are prompted to forget who we are, and believe that there is some good in us whereby we are capable of choosing what is best for ourselves in any area without submitting first to God; whenever we choose music, and this we all do, in order to assert ourselves apart from what God has given us, then we fall into horrid traps such as constant self-awareness and self sufficiency.

Music is a good gift, and all good gifts come from God. It is part of an endless treasure chest of things on earth that we relish, in which we delight, that are in no degree wicked: our dear and intimate friendships, the beautiful creation in which we live and our ability to enjoy it, eating, drinking, reading: these are good things, and we will only be found blamable according to our misuse of them.
The greatest way to display Who it is we love is by what we love: namely, the things that pertain most to our Beloved. Music is not only part of this, but it is a very large part because of the effect it has on us as individuals.

So if we are to respond to Christ in our music choices rather than to personal feeling, what would that look like? What does the Bible tell us about music?

First, we have abundant proof that music was a part of worship in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 15:16ff, 16:42; Psalm 33:2 et cetera); furthermore, we’re commanded to employ this means of Grace in the New Testament as well (Eph 5:19; Col. 3:16ff. [Some have chosen to make the absence of music in the New Testament theological grounds against its use in worship today; however the fact the Old Testament speaks so positively of such, and we have nothing at all to the contrary in the New, shows that this claim cannot but be foundation-less]).

So, without a doubt music is used in Scripture, and not always was it restricted to ecclesiastical use. It was part of the very fabric of culture, a way to express joy and sorrow on every front. We as Gospel-believing Gentiles are nowhere commanded to fashion ourselves according to Hebraic culture: but every believer, as a part of taking every thought captive, ought to examine the Scriptures regarding this issue; we have liberty regarding this matter, in so much as we have liberty to relish and enjoy the good things which our Father gives us; but the love of Christ constrains us to that which is edifying, and that brings glory to Him. 1 Corinthians 10:23,31.

Music in Scripture is not restrained in regard to mood, the emotions expressed, or the topic. In the Psalms, which for the most part were intended to be put to music, are in no way reserved to one sentiment. There are songs that express joy, sorrow, despair, delight; there are songs about unity, about creation: music that expresses the ecstasy that is found in the love between a man and woman has pervaded every moment of cultural history, and even the Bible devotes a long and beautiful section of poetry to this; when women once barren find joy in their children, it is expressed in song. Music, lyrically, is used to address every feeling as much in Scripture as elsewhere. But in these expressions, what is the common denominator?
They are all God-ward.
Our expressing real, human emotions in music ought to express the deeper reality of where our identity lies as called people and adopted children of God.
Our hurts and pains are expressed in bringing ourselves to the God of all comfort to lean on His all sufficient arms.
Our delights in one another as human beings, in our unity as friends and brethren, as lovers being joined, ought to be expressed in gathering in thanksgiving around the Throne of a Good God who has ordained for us to joy in relationships as a reflection of the relational joy that exists in knowing Him.
Our sadnesses in this life, and worse the sorts which we classify as depression and despair, can be characterized by godly sorrow, in coming to God in repentance over sin, recognizing the sufficiency of His overwhelming grace to grant forgiveness; or to bring our hurts to the One Who is wholly acquainted with sorrows, who has been afflicted in every way like us, and actively, laboriously resting on Him.
The joys and happinesses that we have, all find their ultimate fulfillment in joying in the Giver of every good gift, and the wonder of His works, above all His rescue of sinners and bringing them to Himself.
And we have above all the privilege of being awestruck at the character of a Loving, Unchanging, Sovereign, Eternal, All-wise, All-Knowing, Omnipotent and Omnipresent King.

to be continued…..



  1. #1 by Emily Upchurch on May 7, 2011 - 10:55 am

    This is really good. I have so many comments on it (not the proofreading type 🙂 ) that I can’t really say them with a baby on my lap. One piece of advice: Never ask a new mother to do anything time-sensitive.

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