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Music in Worship

29 December 2019

As we’ve reached the last Sunday in 2019 the topic of “Music in Worship” is a simple study that I enjoy teaching our young folks in the Pekin congregation. It’s a study the kids can easily see as we take a walk through the pages of the New Testament and how God desires to be worshipped. The first place we go in our study is the Old Testament. There is a story of two men who attempt to worship God differently than what God has instructed. You may or may not have heard of Nadab and Abhiu. These were the sons of Aaron, Moses’ brother. When we turn to Leviticus 10:1-2 we learn from these men and their poor choice to worship God how they wanted, “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.” So, with Nadab and Abihu teaching us today even though they are dead, a child or young person asks, “What does the Bible say about the type of music we are to use in our worship of God?” The Bible is quite clear on this in the New Testament. And as one can clearly see around us today there are many attempting to worship with all sorts of music. As we recognize this, we know that most religious people agree that it is good to have music in worship services. However, many of them disagree about what kind of music should be included. As you probably know, some religious groups use piano music in their worship or an organ; others have a whole band, complete with drums and electric guitars. Other groups only use a cappella singing (with no instruments). We have to ask the question, “Who’s right?” The leaders of some churches base their decisions concerning what will happen in worship mostly on what the members of the churches like. So, for example, if the people enjoy opera music, then the worship will feature that style of instrumental music. On the other hand, if the local church members prefer upbeat rock ‘n’ roll music, then the church leaders might hire a seven-piece band to “liven up” the service.” But again, we must ask a question, “Should we base our worship practices on the preferences of humans as Nadab and Abihu did, or on the commands of God?” We MUST not design our worship services in order to please ourselves for Jesus says in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." We must worship according to the plan of God otherwise we end up worshipping as Jesus says in Matthew 15:9, “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Knowing this from our Lord and Savior, the one who has all authority in Heaven and in earth, we can find specific instructions about music in worship in the New Testament. In Ephesians 5:19 we read, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” IF we do what God commanded us in that verse, will we sing, play instruments, or play instruments AND sing? Well, the answer is, we will sing – without the addition of mechanical instruments. Let’s notice what the apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:16, “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.” From this verse does God command us to use mechanical instruments? No. In fact, there is no authorization for the use of instruments in New Testament worship, so we should not use them. In 1 Corinthians 14:15 listen to what the apostle Paul tells those in Corinth, “What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” From this verse we gain some more information concerning the type of music God requires of us in worship to Him. If you notice, Paul says “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding.” The key here is, “understanding.” Going back to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 we can see two very important aspects of why we sing. Listen again to Ephesians 5:19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” Let’s note first that when we sing we make melody in our hearts to the Lord. Our singing is Godward. At the same time, as the verse begins, we are to “speak” to one another. The singing is for us to each other while we sing praise to God. Also, we find out what we are to sing, “Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” So, in this one verse we learn that our music in worship is to be Godward, while to each other, and what we sing is from the Scriptures, the psalms, the hymns, and spiritual songs. Keeping this verse in mind let’s go back to Colossians 3:16 and put the two together, “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.” From this verse we can see some similarities. Once again it is said to sing to the Lord. In this verse we have “sing with grace to the Lord.” So, our music is to be Godward. But this time we gain more information about what we are to sing for the verse begins, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…” Remember, in the other verse we were to sing, Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That means we are to get our words from the Bible. That would and does include the Word of Christ, for the entire Bible is about Christ. But notice something else, “in all wisdom” aspect. That means we must have “understanding!” Remember what Paul said he would do in the midst of the church? He would “sing with the spirit and sing with the understanding.” This is very important to know concerning our music in worship. Now let’s go back to our Colossian verse and read the next part which says, “teaching and admonishing one another…” When you put all of these verses together you get a very clear picture of what is to take place with our music in our Worship to God. The songs we sing are to teach and admonish one another. While singing praise to God we are teaching one another the Word of Christ, because once again in this verse as was done in the Ephesian verse, we are told to “admonish one another in s psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” The type of music we have in worship is very important to our growth as Christians and children of God. Just as we begin every radio broadcast with 2 Peter 3:18 which says, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….” The music we use in worship to God is to help us in that growth. While we sing, we educate one another with the words presented in each song, which come from the Bible.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a different approach to understanding why we sing and do not play. From the Bible we are given “examples of what we are to do in our living as Christians. This includes examples of our worship. Let’s take a quick look through the New Testament and see the wording that is used when it comes to music in relation to worship to God. This will be a very simple examination of the New Testament. I ask you to listen and read for yourself what word or words are used from each verse. The first we want to go to this time is Matthew 26:30, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Before we break this verse down let’s go to Mark 14:26 as well, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” If you notice, these two verses are identical. The word used for the type of music used is “sung.” Did you catch it? “they had “sung” a hymn.” Now from here let’s go to Acts 16:25. From here let’s note that Paul and Silas are locked in stocks in prison, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” One thing we must remember about this prison is that it was not like todays. These men had only themselves and therefore the term used in this verse is “singing.” And they were singing “hymns.” Did you also notice what the other prisoners were doing? They were “listening to them.” Paul and Silas while praising God were teaching others around them. The story goes on to show that a great earthquake took place and instead of the prisoners escaping, they all stayed. Interesting isn’t it.

Okay, from this point, let’s turn to Romans 15:9. In this verse the apostle Paul once again refers to an opportunity to teach. In this case an opportunity to teach the Gentiles. Listen to what he says, “and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: "For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name." Once again, we read about a teaching opportunity which included music and we know the type of music to be conducted was “singing.” At this point in our study we have examined 7 verses found on the pages of the New Testament that helped us see the type of music God commands of us in our worship of Him. And so far, we have only found the terms, “sing or sung.” We also know from all of these that there is teaching to be done and that means there must be understanding. But that’s not all. We still have a few more verses we need to read. Turn with us now to Hebrews 2:12. It is here that the writer of Hebrews states "I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You." Now, from this verse we see again, an opportunity to teach and where and to whom, “to his brethren” in “the midst of the assembly” he will “sing praise” to God. Sound familiar to the pattern we’ve studied so far? It should. This is exactly what we read from Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 14:15. A pattern has been given and the writer of Hebrews says clearly what he will do with the pattern, he will follow it. Well, we still have more to read. Turn now to Hebrews 13:15. Listen to what the Hebrew writer encourages his readers to do, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” From this verse we get yet another aspect to aid us in our understanding of the music to be used in worship to God, “the fruit” “of our lips.” Now, think for a moment about all the scripture references we’ve gone to so far. Is this verse consistent with what we have seen? ABSOLUTELY! Before we go to our final verse let’s ask ourselves some questions to help us with this. “The fruit of our lips?” Does playing the piano, guitar, drums, bass guitar, harp, etc meet this requirement of “fruit of our lips?” Well, simply no. Those things are plucked, struck or strummed. Ok. Well, what about the horn or wind instruments? Couldn’t that be considered the fruit of our lips? Well, let’s look closely. When blowing in an instrument where is the melody or grace being played? Is it in the heart as Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 instruct? How about this, are we being taught anything? And that applies to the other instruments as well. No, we’re not. We don’t get the “words of Christ” or “the psalms, Hymns, or Spiritual songs.” All we get is the “sound” of music, not the teaching required from the music in our worship to God.

Well, there is still one more verse we need to look at in the New Testament that helps us with our understanding of the music we are to have in worship to God. Turn over to James 5:13. Listen to this verse, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” I don’t know about you, but for me and my house, being a Christian is as cheerful as it gets! And here we see James encouraging singing and specifically the singing of psalms! I can remember a time when I was stationed at Scott Air Force Base sitting at my desk and my boss came over to me and asked what was going on? I looked at him with a puzzled look. All I was doing was working on my computer. Well, come to find out, without knowing it, I had been singing as well. And I was singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. I guess I was quite cheerful that day.

You know, the type of music we offer to God in our Worship is very important. We don’t want to be found vain in our worship. Only worshiping the way, we want to worship instead of recognizing what our creator wants to worshipped with. And as we read in John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

This is a very important topic for all of us to understand and that means there is still more we can go to in the Bible to help us understand music in worship. Know this however, we are under the New Testament today, and when it comes down to it, when the judgment comes, that is what we will be judged by. We are under the Law of Christ, the New Testament. However, we can learn more about “music” when it comes to worshipping God from the Old Testament. Often times many will turn to Psalm 150 and use it to support having instruments in worship. Listen to what it says, “Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! 2 Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! 3 Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp! 4 Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! 5 Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” Now is this verse consistent with what we learned from the New Testament? No, it isn’t. Can we agree with the sentiment that God is deserving of praise in every way? Absolutely. However, He has shown us exactly what He wants. And again, we have no right to change what He wants. But we don’t have to stop there. We can go further and see even more evidence that shows that even in the Old Testament, God did not want to be worshipped with instruments. You know it was King David that brought the instrument into the worship of God. Now, when we turn to Amos 6:5 we read this, “Who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, And invent for yourselves musical instruments like David;”. This is a very important verse to recognize, and many don’t. In this context Amos had been dealing with those who had been at ease in Zion, basically doing whatever they wanted and not turning and depending upon God. This verse is often overlooked when it comes to understanding about God’s desire to be worshipped in song. In fact, this verse may not even be known to most. Let’s take this verse and compare it to what we read in Matthew 15:9, “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" Did you notice the similarity in these two verse? “in vain” and “sing idly”. To sing in vain is to worship without purpose, to sing idly is the same. We are given clear purpose in our “singing” to God. We are to teach with purpose. We teach and admonish one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs, with grace and melody in our hearts to the Lord.

Well, we’ve looked at 10 verses in the New Testament that help us understand why we “sing in worship” and we even took a look at two sections of the Old Testament to help us with this understanding. However, there is still yet one more example we need to look at from the Old Testament to help us.

Let’s remember that our songs to be sung to God are to teach and admonish and help us with our growth in the Lord. When we simply listen to music it can soothe or excite, calm or motivate. In the military, the civil war or revolutionary war for example, when a horn or drum was played it sent a signal to the troops to advance, charge, or even to retreat. It was only a signal; it didn’t teach anything. At the same time, listening can calm us. Babies are sung to in their cribs to help them sleep. The infant doesn’t understand the words, but the sound of the song soothes. Wild beasts often have music played to help calm them. Let’s recognize something about a person in the Old Testament that was filled with anger towards another. In 1 Samuel 16 we read about King Saul being troubled or angry. His servants suggested having someone come and play on a harp to soothe him. Listen to 1 Samuel 16:14-23, “But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him. 15 And Saul's servants said to him, "Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. 16 "Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well." 17 So Saul said to his servants, "Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me." 18 Then one of the servants answered and said, "Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him." 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, "Send me your son David, who is with the sheep." 20 And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul. 21 So David came to Saul and stood before him. And he loved him greatly, and he became his armorbearer. 22 Then Saul sent to Jesse, saying, "Please let David stand before me, for he has found favor in my sight." 23 And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.” Here is a very good example of what music can do for man as well. It can calm us, as it did Saul in this case. We read about David being a very skillful player of the harp. And we read that Saul’s soul or spirit was soothed. However, because it was only music and did not include any form of words to help Saul learn or grow to change, we find out the soothing that had taken place did not last. Listen to what we read of Saul in 1 Samuel 18:10, “And it happened on the next day that the distressing spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied inside the house. So David played music with his hand, as at other times; but there was a spear in Saul's hand.” Do you see what the music that David played did for Saul now? It no longer soothed him. Saul wanted David dead. His attitude did not change. The music did not teach him or admonish him as he needed. It only soothed his soul or spirit for a time, it was temporary.

With this example and knowing what we know from the New Testament about the kind of music in worship God wants, we know that our music is to aid us in our growth in the Lord. Having the right kind of music in worship is vital for that and more importantly to bring glory and honor to our Heavenly Father in obedience. We all want to be found pleasing and the type of music in worship, when done in accordance with His Will is Pleasing to Him. Which is the point of our existence, to be pleasing to Him above all else.

  Let each one of us make the choice to obey Christ and His Will as it is presented in the Bible. Let us adhere to the “oracles of God as Peter told us in 1 Peter 4:11. Let us do as the apostle Paul explains in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;”

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