Monday, November 30, 2015

Music 3 - Eight Ways the Bible Says We Can Use Music

In this series I am going to discuss both the personal and corporate (church) aspects of music. I am going to begin with principles that are involved on the personal side and then apply them later in the series to corporate use. Last week we discovered that music is an emotional language. Today I want to consider appropriate personal uses for music. In other words, I am going to attempt to show you from the Bible some acceptable ways we can use music (instrumental and lyrical both) outside of a church context in our daily life.

First, we can use music to empathize with others. And Jeremiah lamented for Josiah: and all the singing men and the singing women spake of Josiah in their lamentations to this day, and made them an ordinance in Israel: and, behold, they are written in the lamentations. (II Chronicles 35.25) Josiah was one of the better kings of Judah. He valiantly sought to defend his country militarily and politically, to deliver it from the coming Babylonian storm he foresaw, and to revive it spiritually. He died eighteen years into a promising reign while in battle with the Egyptian army. Shortly after his death Judah was conquered and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Music_presentSuch a good man and wise leader was sorely missed by his people. In the above passage we see the prophet Jeremiah and the music ministry of the Temple led the people in a musical lamentation for their now dead king. In my view this was not a worship related scenario in the Temple but rather a meeting of national or political significance. In Matthew 9 we see a similar use of music. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue in Capernaum, lost his daughter in death. Sympathetic friends gathered to mourn with him and provided music to accompany the mourning.

If someone around you is hurting music played in their presence or given to them as a gift is a helpful thing. It can be a soothing balm indeed.

Second, we can use music to amplify romance with our spouse. The idea that every couple has a song is widely held. In point of fact more songs are written with romantic love as the theme than any other subject. I may disagree with much of the content and form of such songs, but if they are biblically acceptable the over-arching concept of using music to strengthen romantic emotion is scripturally valid. Psalm 45 is headlined A Song of loves. Isaiah 5.1 says Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. Of course, the entirety of the Song of Solomon is romance. Such music, while inappropriate in an illicit relationship, is perfectly acceptable in a married relationship.

Third, we can use music to teach our children scriptural truth. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. (Deuteronomy 6.7) Granted, this verse does not explicitly reference doing so via music but such is implied. How? The largest book of the Bible is Psalms. We are commanded five times in the Word of God to sing those psalms as well as other spiritual songs. One of the ways I as a father can combine both of those is to teach my children to sing psalms and to furnish them with scripture songs to which they can listen. Actually not thirty minutes ago they chose the next hymn they are going to work on memorizing for this month. Every night of their life they have gone to sleep listening to good music. By the time my children leave my home – not counting church services – they will have listened to and sung thousands of hours worth of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Fourth, we can use music to motivate ourselves or others to accomplish something worthwhile. And from thence they went to Beer: that is the well whereof the Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water. Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it: The princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it, by the direction of the lawgiver, with their staves. (Numbers 21.16-18) The children of Israel needed to dig yet another well on their wilderness wanderings. They did not seem up to the task for some reason – perhaps because they only had sticks with which to dig – so Moses had them begin singing while they worked, and it worked. There issnowwh7 a camaraderie, a mutual improvement in mood when you sing together while working. In fiction the dwarves in Snow White are an example of this. In real life the military often uses this technique in training.

Fifth, we can use music to reflect our joy. As Christians we sometimes think that if we do something solely for the fun of it then it must be wrong. After all, we are supposed to live soberly. (Titus 2.12) This does not mean, however, that we are to live without joy, humor, fun, or happiness. It means we are to live with purpose. There is nothing wrong with good, clean, enjoyable fun. There is nothing wrong – all other things being equal – with music that expresses this. Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah: I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh: for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease. (Isaiah 16.9-10) I realize this passage is referencing the sorrow that comes with judgment but it does not say these people were wrong to sing as they enjoyed themselves. Rather, it assumes such is perfectly acceptable normally.

Often of an evening during and after dinner while my family is gathered in the main room of our home I will put some kind of cheerful, happy music on Pandora. These are not psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; it is lighthearted often lively music that we all enjoy.

tumblr_let4f59lId1qfictco1_400Sixth, we can use music to outwardly express our inner emotions. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. (Psalm 137.2) Here the psalmist likened harp music – which is always peaceful if not somber – to a weeping willow tree. Such a concept is illustrated in the book of Job. My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of them that weep. I have often wished I could sit down at the piano or pick up a violin and play just exactly how I am feeling at the moment. Music is how feelings sound. Due to my own lack of skill I cannot but I can through the genius of our technologically advanced age play someone else's music that expresses how I feel at the moment.

Seventh, we can use music to show our patriotic love of country. And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. (I Samuel 18.6) What American heart among us does not thrill at "The Star Spangled Banner", "America the Beautiful," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," or "God Bless America"? As a child my father along with the other three clergymen in our village participated each year in the community Memorial Day observance. I can still feel the shivers that went up and down my spine as the bugler solemnly and majestically played "Taps."

Lastly, we can use music to pray and to praise the Lord. There are so many examples of this in Psalms that it is beside the point to list them. A Christian whose heart is warm to His God will often find a psalm or a hymn on his lips throughout the day. He will sing in the shower, on the bus, and while walking down a crowded sidewalk. He will sing in private communion with His Lord the precious songs he has learned in the corporate meetings of His church. He will listen to them, whistle them, hum them, quote them, and even belt out a verse or two betimes.

As a teenage boy a well-meaning but mistaken preacher taught me that the only valid use of music was spiritual. In other words, all the music in my life was supposed to be to or about God. The truth is a closer examination of Scripture does not bear this out. All of my music has to yield to Scriptural principle but it does not all have to be about God. In this blog series I will spend a lot of time talking about the spiritual aspects of music. At the beginning, however, I want to make sure you understand that though such should probably represent the majority of our music use it is still perfectly appropriate to use music personally in broader ways.


  1. Very helpful. Thanks for your thoughts.
    Dr. Bob Patton

  2. These verses for the most part again refence words (singing) not insturmental music. You have continued your disconnect of defining music as instrumental while using veses that deal with singing.

    On top of that the book of Psalms isn't just instrumental.

    The scriptural references you used refer to singing (as in words) and not musical notes or sound as emotional language as you have defined it. There is a disconnect there.

  3. I appreciate you pointing that out last week, which is why you will notice the following sentence at the end of the first paragraph above:

    In other words, I am going to attempt to show you from the Bible some acceptable ways we can use music (instrumental and lyrical both) outside of a church context in our daily life.