What is music?
At bottom, music is a specific arrangement of sounds. These sounds are known according to their pitch, and their duration can be controlled. Their arrangement is what makes music.
But music is so much more. Music is one of the best gifts that God has given to His highest creature, man. It is one of the finest of arts, in which man can employ the creativeness of his mind and the nimbleness of his body. With music, man can express in a powerful way the feelings of his heart. With music, man can arouse powerful thoughts and emotions in the minds of those who listen.
But, like many of God’s gifts, music can be used by man for good or for evil. There is music that is good, and there is music that is bad.
From that point forward, the argument begins. What is good music? What is bad music? The difference between good music and bad music is not merely a matter of taste.
There is music that is bad music because it promotes what is evil. Music (these sounds) is used to celebrate and extol evil. Popular music often features foul, ungodly language and lewd behavior. Obscenity is put to music, either by way of lyrics that are sung, or by words that are chanted or merely spoken. The evil deeds of men, the most foul crimes imagined or actually committed, men declare in their music, often by only the pounding out of the same incessant rhythm. This corrupt music is a powerful reminder of Lamech’s song, which he sang to his two wives (Gen. 4:23, 24). In his song, Lamech celebrated his murder and compared himself to God. Music used in this evil way powerfully delivers its evil content straight into the heart.
Beware!Popular music so often celebrates what is sinful and evil. If you listen closely to it, you will find that so many popular songs either explicitly or implicitly mention something sinful. Music helps both to wrap up that evil and to bring that evil into your heart, where it will find a ready place. While you may claim that you can distinguish between the music and the words, you also know that if you hear the music of the same song without the words, those words will so easily come to your mind.
This bad music has its effect on your heart. When you listen to it, what does your heart look like? Does it arouse feelings that are pleasant and delightful, or feelings of raw power or even of anger? If you may say there is no effect, let me ask you this: When it is silent around you, what kind of music does your heart begin to play?
What is good music?
First of all, good music is orderly and harmonious. Good music also has differences. Different harmonies and different melodies are set over against each other for the sake of contrast. Those differences will be developed and explored. But the ultimate result is harmony.
Good music also is pleasant and delightful to the hearer. Your experience in listening to good music is that you are enriched. You are enriched by the experience itself, the simple enjoyment of a good gift of God, similar to enjoying a fine meal. When you begin to appreciate the harmony and balance of good music, you may also find and enjoy harmony and balance elsewhere, in everything from books you read, to paintings you see, and even sermons you hear. You will find, too, that your own thoughts become more orderly, balanced, and harmonious.
What does all that mean for you young people?
It means, first of all, that you must be discriminating in your choice of music. Your ears are not your own. Your mind and heart are not your own. God has given you your ears and mind and heart to enjoy His gifts and to bless His name when you enjoy them. And music ranks among the highest of His blessed and excellent gifts. Your ears—I should say the ears that the Lord has loaned to you—are not to be filled with just any kind of music, much less with music that is polluted and vile. Your minds and hearts are not to be tuned to the kind of music that is displeasing to Him. There is no place for corruptible, vile things in His temple. You must also learn to despise and abhor what is displeasing to God, even when you hear it on the street. Radio, television, even printed media in their adoration of “musical” entertainers and celebrities, will not help you in this process.
Be not conformed to the world. Take inventory of the music you listen to. Does it lead you into worldliness? Does it lead you into sin? Is it pleasing to God?
Most of all, take a look at what a gift music is intended to be. Music is a gift that can be listened to with much enjoyment and even profit. But music is really meant to be made. God gave you music for you to make. He gave you a musical instrument with your birth. And God has given to you the ability to play this musical instrument. It is a musical instrument that all other musical instruments envy, and the best players of other instruments are rated as to how closely they approach it. That instrument is your voice.
Your voice is the best instrument for two reasons. The first is that it is the closest to your heart. It is the instrument used in your confession of faith. With your mouth you declare and confess the truth that God has put in your heart by His Word and Spirit (Rom. 10:10). So, too, the happiness and joy in your heart you express best with your lips.
The second reason is that your voice is the only musical instrument that actually uses words. Truly you are fearfully and wonderfully made! Yours is the instrument that praises God, repeating back to God the words that He has first given you. Your voice is the musical instrument of adoration, worship, and praise. It is the instrument of lamentation and supplication, as well as of thanksgiving. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 89:1).
Your voice is also the one musical instrument that will be raised up and glorified to be used in heaven to show the praises of your glorious Redeemer. Think of the new song sung before the Lamb of God in glory (Rev. 5:9, 10).
Your voice, this wonderful musical instrument, is capable of performing alone. But, more importantly, you are able to take your place among others who are making profitable use of their instruments. You can join your voice with the voices of others in harmony (or in unison). Your privilege is to take up this glorious privilege every Sunday with your church family. Together you sing in the presence of the living God, who is your audience! You sing for Him. You sing to be pleasing to Him. You sing to His delight and for His enjoyment, to be pleasing to His ears.
Congregational singing is the reason to be a good musician. It is the reason to make sure that you fill your ears (and your mind and heart) with music that is good. It will help you do your best in worship on Sundays. It is the reason why you ought to practice the instrument of your voice alone and with others. It is why you should prefer to sing Psalter numbers and good hymns when you have opportunity, either by yourself or with others. It is why you should sing not worldly songs but Christian songs.
Let your strength of youth also show in the strength of your singing. Avoid being timid and self-conscious in your singing. The Lord is worthy of your very best, your best voice and your best singing. He is worthy of your clearest words and your tightest harmonies. Neither does the Lord intend that you should sing your part by yourself. You and your friends together should decide to set aside your self-consciousness, and decide to give the Lord your best. In your Young People’s Society meetings, or in your school choir, there will be the holdouts, but let them be in the minority and not form the majority. Sing out! Sing loudly and clearly, giving expression to the joy of the Lord in your heart!
Your singing has wonderful benefits for you and for your friends with whom you sing. According to Ephesians 5:19, in the singing of those “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” you actually “make melody in your heart to the Lord.” This singing is part of what it means to be “filled with the Spirit,” according to verse 18, and is set by God over against drunkenness. This verse, together with Colossians 3:16, shows that singing these songs is a means of teaching. According to Ephesians 5:19, you teach yourself. According to Colossians 3:16, you teach others, and others teach you.
With music, you are able to take the Word of God and put it in the same places of your heart that good music occupies, places of love, affection, sweetness, and delight, where the Word of God is meant to live, prosper, grow strong, and bear much fruit. In your heart, in the heart of your friends, that music makes you strong in the Lord. What a gift!