In many contemporary worship settings, the focus of the music appears to be primarily self-expression of one’s relationship with God. While there’s nothing wrong with this, I do believe that it is a misplaced priority. I aim to show in this post that worship music in the church is to be primarily for instruction in the truths of scripture and not for self-expression.
Ephesians 5:18ff says this:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father ï»¿in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Ephesians 5 is a great example of the purpose that God assigns to singing in his church. The positive command in 5:18 is to be filled with the Spirit. How, one might ask, is this to be accomplished?
There is a head command (be filled), which is followed by several modifiers (participles in Greek) that shed light on the command. It looks like this:
Be Filled (the command, imperative tense)1. Addressing one another (Psalm, Hymns and Spiritual Songs) 2. Singing 3. Making melody (literally “Psalming”) 4. Giving Thanks 5. Submitting to one another.
Paul is saying here that there are at least 5 different ways to be filled with the spirit, three of which explicitly involve some type of musical expression.
Simply stated, God has sovereignly ordained music to be an important vehicle of being filled with the Spirit.
We may speculate as to why God has done so. Does God particularly enjoy the sound of our singing? Is his impressed with our inventive meter or new discovery of words to rhyme with “grace”?
No, I believe it is much more practical than that. Many would argue for a “lifestyle of worship” which isn’t limited to music. Granted. But singing is exclusively musical. That’s what singing is; it is music. Paul commands the use of singing as a subset of filling with the Spirit, which biblically is connected to the Word.
Here’s a summary of my view: since the filling of the Holy Spirit is connected with the proclamation of God’s word (the book of Acts consistently demonstrates this), and since singing is commanded as an important vehicle of being filled with the spirit, singing is the easiest way to internalize and memorize Christian truth.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts about the power of music and why it is essential for Christian instruction.
1. Music is memorable. It internalizes truth through rhythm and melody.
2. Music is repetitive. Repetition is key to memorization.
3. Music is participatory. It belongs to regular people. The simplest and youngest people understand it. No PhD required.
4. Music is portable. You can take it with you when you leave and sing it whenever you want.
5. Music is reductionistic (this is a good thing). It takes complex themes and distills them down to their bare essence. Take the book of Proverbs, for example. This book contains reflections on the Torah and reduces them to pithy statements.
Imagine how powerful this is: short poems about God and the Christian life are hammered repeatedly into the minds and hearts of every congregation member, who largely memorize every word and spontaneously sing them throughout the week in the shower, car, or wherever, which ultimately become unconsciously internalized and integrated into one’s worldview.
Worship music, in my view, is one of the tools God uses to pound his truth into the minds of believers. This is exactly the sentiment of Deuteronomy 6:4-6:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.