By Sarah E Martin, Crosswalk.com
“The music of the Gospel leads us home.” - Frederick W. Faber
Music as an art form has always connected deeply with people of all cultures and languages throughout human history. Making melodies with voices and instruments has been a key part of the expression of man’s experiences. When words fail us, and the circumstances of our physical lives confine us, music is an outlet for the hopes and dreams, passions and desires, the tension and confusion, and even the transformation taking place within us.
Music connects with us on a level nothing else does, and for that reason, people have always recognized a divine power and spirituality to music.
Yet no matter how societies around the world relate to music, God’s people should realize they have a special claim on the art of song. The power of great music lies in the power of the gospel story, of God calling his people home. As a Gospel Coalition writer says, “If you believe in God, you have a framework for enjoying music that is more satisfying to heart and mind, and more authentic to the actual experience of that enjoyment.”
So while the world at large may use music in their search for meaning, for expression, or simply pleasure and distraction, the Bible reveals a much deeper, ancient, and powerful purpose at work when followers of Christ lift their voices.
“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16).
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What Does the Bible Say about Music?
In Scripture, we see that music is used for glorifying and worshipping God, telling of his great deeds, offering outlets for both lament and praise, and providing unity to God’s people. We also see that an appreciation of the songs recorded in the Bible provides a fuller understanding of a greater story: God claiming the hearts of people from every culture and walk of life to become a part of his song in Heaven.
Music is also a tool for teaching theology. Knowledge of God is woven throughout inspired songs, such as the Psalms.
“There is (according to Paul) a definite relationship between our knowledge of the Bible and our expression of worship in song. One way we teach and encourage ourselves and others is through the singing of the Word of God. But if we do not know the Bible and understand it, we cannot honestly sing it from our hearts” writes Warren W. Wieserbe on the meaning of Colossians 3. Engaging in theologically rich music is like choosing to linger in a treasure trove, a room full of precious gems that bring color and texture to the way you value knowing God. Joining words of faithful teaching to melodies that move us is a way that we can meditate on what is true, and thus allow the holistic work of music to connect our heads to our hearts, where true change and transformation takes place. David reflected this when he penned the Psalms.
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What Music Is Recorded in the Bible?
Scripture is full of recordings of song and poetic verse. From Adam singing in response to the creation of Eve (Genesis 2:23), to the song raised in heaven in praise of God’s sovereignty in Revelation (Revelation 5:9). Even Jesus is recorded singing with his disciples (Matthew 26:30).
Perhaps the best known collection of songs in the Bible is the book of Psalms, a compilation of Hebrew poems, songs, and prayers – many of them written by King David, who was himself a poet and harpist. This collection was used in the temple in Israel for worship (1 Chronicles 16:7-36), and was brought back into use in the construction of the second temple after the Babylonian exile (Ezra 3:10-11; Nehemiah 12:27-47).
Song of Songs is a smaller, less well-known book of poetry whose author is uncertain. It’s a collection of Hebrew love poetry, featuring a man and woman describing their love and desire for one another, along with a female chorus. Many interpret the themes of this song as allegory for Christ’s love for the church.
Other recordings of songs appear in the Bible in response to a significant event, usually a great victory accomplished by God.
The song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15 is one example, after God displayed his power over the natural world, and his strength to save people he loves from their enemies by drowning the Egyptian army in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:26-31). In their song, Moses and Miriam praised the victory of God, “I will sing to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1), and worshipped God for the story he was unfolding in their lives, bringing his people out of exile, and into a land prepared for them:
“In your unfailing love, O Lord,
you lead the people whom you have redeemed.
And by your invincible strength
You will guide them to your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them, O Lord,
In the sanctuary which your hands have
established” (Exodus 15:6-7).
Already we see a story of homecoming echo through the artistic outpouring of the hearts God has ransomed for himself.
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Music as a Spiritual Discipline in the Christian Life
The story of God’s people is also a story of forgetful people. Music, as seen in the Bible, trains us in the practice of remembering who God is and what he has done. All throughout the Psalms, and even in the New Testament letters to the church, there are genuine commands and exaltations for God’s people to sing to tell of his wonderful deeds, and thus remind ourselves with the power of song who God is, what he has done, and how he keeps his promises.
“Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts” (Psalm 105:2). Telling of his wondrous acts not only is a witness to those around us of God’s greatness, but it is just as much a blessing to us when we use our voices to speak what God has done for us, reminding us of his goodness.
Far from an obligation, God’s command for us to sing is a gift, uniting the wiring of our minds and hearts to his life-giving instructions that keep us on the road back to him.
Such a command reveals God’s heart for our flourishing. Through the gift of music, he has united art with truth, offering a deeply enjoyable way for the gospel message to sink itself into our hearts. As Bob Kauflin, a songwriter and worship leader said, “There’s something about singing that both enables and encourages the rich indwelling of the word of Christ in our hearts. The ‘word of Christ’ is the gospel. It’s who Jesus is, what he’s done, and why it matters. That gospel is to dwell in us richly through singing. Singing is what helps us do that and express that.”
Paul also instructs the church of Ephesus to use music as they relate to one another and mature in Christ: “… speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19). These exaltations to engage their hearts in song is a part of Paul’s guidance for the church as they learn to turn away from old ways of life that sowed division and hurt. Instead of bickering and grumbling, music would help them “walk in the way of love.”
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Music and the Unity of the Church
Singing in unison with others, as a Gospel Coalition writer explains, takes on a whole new dimension for embodying God’s will in our lives and communities. “In congregational singing, the whole person is engaged and united with the community around us. This practice takes on its greatest meaning in the church, where that unity shapes and reorients a covenant community to the story of the gospel.”
God wants us to be whole people, united with each other, connecting His will for our lives to our head, heart, and soul. In his article, Gospel Coalition writer, Mike Cosper, recognizes the power of feeling, of emotions shared with others. When people sing together, their “bodies and hearts embark on a journey together.”
Music, a bridge builder of compassion and empathy, helps us weep together and bear each other’s burdens. In the same vein, it allows us to experience and share in each other’s victories: “When the church sings a lament together, the words and music share the sense of sorrow and anguish of those who are suffering. When they sing a celebratory anthem, the music helps them emotionally taste hope and victory.”
The Bible reveals that God’s people should be well practiced in celebration. When Jesus returns, bringing his Kingdom, the redeemed from the earth will join in a new song.
“And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth” (Revelation 14:3-4).
Joining song with others reflects the heart of Jesus when he looked up to Heaven and prayed to his father for the oneness of his people: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-26).
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Bible Verses about Music
“Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” (Psalm 9:11).
“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (Psalm 104:33).
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (James 5:13).
“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” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
“For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4).
“Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods” (1 Chronicles 16:23-25).
“For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name” (Psalm 18:49).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
Christian Quotes about Music
“Music is one of the fairest and most glorious gifts of God, to which Satan is a bitter enemy, for it removes from the heart the weight of sorrow, and the fascination of evil thoughts.” - Martin Luther
“The best, most beautiful, and most perfect way that we have of expressing a sweet concord of mind to each other is by music.” - Jonathan Edwards
“The music of the Gospel leads us home.” - Frederick W. Faber
“Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” - Martin Luther
“Worship is an inward feeling and outward action that reflects the worth of God.” - John Piper
“I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.” - Bach
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