As a music director, I talk, think, and teach on music a lot! There’s so much ground to cover! Recently, my pastor asked me to teach a lesson on music for a series called “Walk with God”. That got me thinking about how we can make biblical decisions about the music we listen to during our personal lives.
To start, we’ll need to take a look at the passage that spells out EXACTLY what music God says we can listen to; you know, the chapter where Paul tells us precisely what styles of music we should listen to. Of course, I’m being facetious; we all know there isn’t a passage like that. That means we have to do our best to apply biblical principles in a thoughtful way.
There’s two basic philosophies: one says that any style of music is fine; all that matters is the lyrics. The other philosophy says that there are certain musical styles which are inherently, and shouldn’t be listened to, regardless of the lyrical content.
To be frank, there are bad arguments on both sides. Some argue that because the Bible does not explicitly forbid any musical style, it’s fine to listen to anything. That’s foolish; the Bible doesn’t forbid using LSD, but we can easily understand, by applying biblical principles, that acid trips are not part of a healthy Christian life.
Some also try to pinpoint particular musical elements, like backbeat (emphasizing beats 2 and 4 as opposed to 1 and 3) as the source of all kinds of physical and spiritual ills. Unfortunately, there is absolutely zero evidence, biblical or scientific, to back up those claims. I’ve also hear some say that the reference to a trumpet giving an “uncertain sound” in I Corinthians 14:8 applies to more contemporary styles; yet examining I Corinthians 14 reveals that the context has absolutely nothing to do with music. This is just poor exegesis!
I believe that there are, in fact, certain musical styles that are harmful. I just think that many who hold to this view have been guilty of spurious arguments; it’s like getting the answer right to a math problem, but doing the work wrong. You may have the right conclusion, but your reasoning doesn’t make any sense. It’s no wonder we can’t sway people to our position when we so often fail to adequately explain it!
The truth is, music is not really as black and white as we would perhaps want. We can’t always be dogmatic; however, there solid biblical principles to guide us in our decision-making:
1. Guard Your Heart
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” – Proverbs 4:23
Proverbs exhorts us to keep our hearts; Keep means to guard! We need to guard what we allow affect our minds and emotions. Why? Because the issues (outgoings, sources, things) of life come from the heart! Your actions, thoughts, attitudes, emotions, character all flow from your heart. If you allow rotten things in your heart, garbage will come out. Jesus taught the same principle:
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” Matthew 15:15-18
But does music affect us? Of course! First of all, the lyrics affect us. We shouldn’t allow ungodly words to fill our hearts. Second, the music itself affects us. Music communicates a wide variety of emotions! That’s why the music at a wedding is different than at a sporting event. If music didn’t affect us, then why not have Darth Vader’s theme play as the bride marches down the aisle? If music doesn’t affect our hearts, why not play some soft classical music when the home team comes out at a sports game?
Socrates actually wrote about the powerful effects of music, which I wrote about here.
Some music communicates rebellion, anger, lust, arrogance, pride…not things we want influencing our hearts! Guard your heart when it comes to music.
2. All things are lawful, but not expedient
“1 Corinthians 10:23 -All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”
Paul gave this command when he was addressing a dispute over whether it was ok to eat meat offered to idols. His answer?
“Well, we aren’t under the law; so it’s not necessarily wrong. But consider these things:
How will it affect others? How will it affect you and your walk with God? This isn’t necessarily wrong…but it’s not expedient, either.”
Expedient means helpful; some things may not be explicitly sinful as Christians, but they won’t help us be like Jesus, either. Let me illustrate this point with food.
the Bible doesn’t say I can’t eat a whole package of Oreos every day. Does that mean I should do it? Of course not! It’s lawful…but not expedient to my health! If you want to be healthy, you can’t eat junk food because the Bible doesn’t say you can’t. You have to make decisions based on what will be expedient to your health!
Music, and all media, is the same. Some music isn’t sinful, but it won’t help you either. For example, I like Josh Groban; but should that be my primary musical diet? I don’t think so. Most of my intake should be godly Christian music.
Let me challenge you to examine your music! Is it helping you to show the fruits of the Spirit? Are you consuming a well-balanced musical diet? Let these biblical principles guide you.