Listening to Music for God’s Glory

Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking to the parents and youth of my home church on the topic of listening to music for the glory of God. The parent/youth ministry is currently discussing the book, Wordliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. My message was something of an adaptation of a chapter I wrote for the book, called “God, My Heart, and Music.”

I started out by saying God gave us music as a gift to direct our attention to him. In the Bible, music is connected with worship, weddings, funerals, work, play, and war. The basic elements of rhythm, melody, and harmony aren’t inherently evil or sinful. Non-Christians can write beautiful songs that are good for us. Christians can write terrible songs that are bad for us.

So how can something so good become something bad? Two reasons. First, there’s a sinful world outside us. Music, like any gift, can be abused, misused, and used wrongly. Those who make music – artists, record companies, marketers – aren’t primarily interested in caring for our souls or helping us avoid worldliness. They want us to buy their music.

Second, there are sinful desires inside us. Just as people can write music to communicate sin, we can listen to music to feed sin. And music amplifies the deceptive voices of the world. Listening to music is never neutral, because our sinful hearts are involved (James 1:14-15). Listening to music without discernment and godly intent reveals a heart willing to flirt with the world. We get into trouble when we don’t THINK about the music we listen to.

I ended by offering six handles to help us think more concretely and biblically about the music we listen to.

1. Submission (Prov. 19:20)
If you’re living at home, that means submission to your parents. If you’re an adult, that means submission to those who are spiritually mature and know you best. Listening to music is not a right. It’s a privilege to be earned.

2. Content (Phil. 4:8)
If we listen regularly to ungodly lyrics, it’s only a matter of time until we become dull to sin or drawn by sin. Some Christians say they don’t know what songs are saying.  If we don’t listen to what’s being said, why don’t we find out? Christians, more than anyone, should know what the songs we listen to are saying (James 3:8-10).

3. Associations (Prov. 22:3)
Because music can’t be held, touched, or seen, it always associates itself with the things that surround it:  friends, concerts, clubs, radio stations, videos, websites, other artists. A “neutral” song can lead us to a variety of temptations.

4. Time (Prov. 13:20)
The more time you spend listening to music, the more it becomes a friend that will affect you. Is your music a wise friend or a fool?

5. Fruit (Prov. 14:14)
We should be aware of the kinds of emotions the music we listen to produces in us. How does it affect our relationships with others? What effect does it have on our attitudes, perspectives, and appearance? Is there any desire to deceive others about the music we listen to?

6. Conversion (2 Cor. 13:5)
An ongoing struggle with music and its effects could reveal that an individual has never been regenerated. Only a true worshiper of Jesus can appreciate music the way God intended it to be appreciated – not as an idol, but as a gift.

I ended by giving three ways to listen to music for God’s glory: intentionally, with others, and gratefully.

You can download or listen to the whole message at the Covenant Life website.

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18 Responses to Listening to Music for God’s Glory

  1. Keith November 13, 2008 at 9:59 AM #

    Bob, thanks for the great concise look at music and its relation to/power over us. I look forward to listening to the message.

    Thanks!

  2. Thomas Clay November 13, 2008 at 10:03 AM #

    Bob,

    Great outline! What is SG’s stance on music styles? I’m running into more and more folks drawn to our ministry who like to draw stylistic lines as objectively good/evil.

    Here, at Grace Life, we tend to follow MacArthur’s stance in that there is no objective right/wrong styles but wisdom must be used in using styles as they are subjective in nature and must be appropriate for the situation. (Forgive my paraphrase as it may be an oversimplification.)

    Thanks!

  3. Bob Kauflin November 13, 2008 at 10:24 AM #

    Thomas,

    We hold a similar view on music styles. It’s a wisdom issue. The church shouldn’t feel compelled to utilize the hippest, most cutting edge styles. We should look for music that helps us express our unity rather than divide us. In that process, of course, people might be stretched in terms of their personal preferences. That’s okay. God’s glory can’t be contained in one style.

  4. Thomas Clay November 13, 2008 at 12:21 PM #

    I’m not surprised by your reply. We seem to be on the same page on just about everything!

    With that being said, I do agree that music style is never “neutral”. It’s just that it isn’t so in an absolute/objective way, meaning that rock/classical/etc. doesn’t affect everyone in exactly the same way but it does affect everyone in some manner. It does so in a subjective way.

    The legalist would disagree, saying that I don’t hold to the sufficiency of scripture. I counter with that I do hold to the sufficiency of scripture. The scriptures are silent on this issue (of absolute endorsements on particular song styles from heaven); they are sufficiently silent!

    I thank the Lord for your ministry.

  5. Jason Chollar November 14, 2008 at 2:09 AM #

    I have a slightly different take on musical styles.
    I think of musical styles as various musical languages/dialects.
    I would say I think it is important to encourage worship in brand new styles, even edgy and hip ones. Why? Same reason you don’t force a brand new convert in a brand new unreached tribe/culture to forgo their own culture and take over our western culture. We’ve done that in the past and it’s not right. What you do is encourage those saved to take the music and language they know and allow the Holy Spirit to transform it. People who speak Swahili in day to day life need to talk to God in Swahili, sing to him and read the scriptures in Swahili, not English. In the same way, those who have grown up speaking the language of Rap or Metal or Country or … should be encouraged to write songs in those styles, transformed by the Holy Spirit and the power of the Gospel. The music used in services will obviously have to be adapted for mainstream participation, but otherwise we risk losing entire people groups, by not “doing church” in their language.

    What do you think about that?

  6. Phil Dokmanovic November 15, 2008 at 12:09 AM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for that outline above. I am new to your site but read this post with interest, having had similar discussions with parents in relation to the music that their kids listen to and its effects. I feel that the big issue is submission. The very nature of telling kids that the music they are listening to is not good for their heart, mind and soul can in some cases cause huge issues within a family context and so must be handled sensitively, especially as late adolescence arrives.

    I think you will find that there is research out there somewhere that indicates that even if we listen to a song for the music our minds are totally aware of the lyrics.

    As a Christian, using songs to point out prevailing worldviews can be an excellent instructional tool and hence we can’t have a neutral song as all presnt a particular worldview in some form. Style…now that’s a big one!!

    One of our world’s biggest traps is that people worship the gift and not the giver of that gift and this is evident with Music.

    Praise God for the rich gift of Music!!

    Just a few random thoughts

    many blessings,

    Phil Dokmanovic

  7. Marty November 28, 2008 at 9:25 PM #

    Bob,

    Thanks for the insights on music and how to listen to it. It is a major influence and can be used for good or bad. One of our responsibilities as Christians and worship leaders is to really pay attention to what the songs are saying, not just how they sound. Thanks for the reminder that we can become what we listen to.

    Marty

  8. Giao Tran December 8, 2008 at 4:04 AM #

    I’d like to get the music of the song “Glory to the God”

    Thank you

  9. Bob Kauflin December 8, 2008 at 8:15 AM #

    Giao,

    Are you looking for an MP3, a guitar chart, or a lead sheet for Glory Be to God? You can find all of them here.

  10. Bob Kauflin December 8, 2008 at 8:26 AM #

    Jason,

    Sorry it’s take me so long to respond to your comment. I don’t think we can compare speaking a different verbal language to speaking a different musical language. There are similarities, but they’re not exactly the same. Music is a preference, albeit often deeply ingrained. The language you speak is more than a “preference.” Music isn’t what ultimately draws someone to or keeps someone in the church. If it is, then we’re inviting people to be idolaters.

    That being said, I agree that people should seek to use their native musical “languages” to proclaim the excellencies of Christ and the glory of God. God’s glory is too great to be contained in any one style. But in choosing songs for congregational worship, I’m looking for styles that bring people together, not styles that separate generations and cultures.

    Is that helpful?

  11. Stevie December 28, 2008 at 8:21 AM #

    Thanks Bob, This is really great! There are many things that I’ve learned from the message. Thanks for providing the outline and the whole message for download.

  12. Jomy June 25, 2009 at 3:29 PM #

    Thanks Bob,

    You have written a lot of fruitful information on virtually a synonymous topic as with my blog. I’ll be looking forward to read more of your posts and hopefully we could exchange thoughts and ideas on the beauty of christian music.

    Jomy

  13. Eddie July 14, 2010 at 12:07 AM #

    O.K. I have had a struggle lately thinking that almost all modern worship is bad. I started feeling this way because of pastors like John Macarthur. Now, he never actually says this but that is the feeling i get from what i read of his comments. This is a real scary concept for me because i am an electric guitar player who really enjoys this modern style.(Chris Tomlin,Brenton Brown, Matt Redman, Delerius, Etc…)However, as i have thought and prayed about it i really think that the chuch in general is making a very big deal out of this issue. I think that as long as we have Christ (God) as the absolute center of our worship it makes no difference of what style it is. Remember, even traditional classical music is new so to speak in the church. I think we are thinking this way to much. Please give me your oppinions as to how you feel about this as i definately dont want to offend God with my philosophy. I am just being honest.

  14. Eddie July 14, 2010 at 12:11 AM #

    By the way, I still have this slight worry that I am wrong and it’s not O.K. to play guitar in this modern style. Someone please help!!

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