Sermon: Music To God’s Ears

 

19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. (Ephesians 5:19–21)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

A. Music Is Important To God

 

Music is important to God. The words for singing or song appear over 250 times in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Even in Heaven, singing will be important. John describes the scene that will take place one day:

 

8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; (Revelation 5:8–9)

 

Music is important to God and music ought to be important to every Christian as well. One reason that it should be is that it is one of the effects of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

We read in Ephesians 5:18—

 

18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Ephesians 5:18)


But the sentence doesn’t end there, being filled with the Spirit means that you will be…

 

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 

 

There’s just something about being saved and being filled with the Spirit that causes a person to desire to sing. The psalmist captures that in Psalm 66—

 

1 Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: 2 Sing forth the honour of his name: Make his praise glorious. (Psalm 66:1–2)

 

Some Christians are afraid to sing out because they’re afraid they’ll sound like Barney Fife in the choir. But this singing is not something that has to be technically accurate. It’s an expression of your love for the Father and the Son who died for you. It’s evidence of the Spirit filling your life and heart.

 

Because music is important to God and to the Christian, it should be something that we want to rightly understand and use properly. Power tools are important to carpenters, but if they don’t use them properly they can be more dangerous than helpful. Music is the same way for the Christian.


B. The Bible Allows Variety In Music

 

It’s even more critical to understand how to use music properly because this verse teaches us that there is great variety allowed in our music. 

 

The Bible describes here different kinds of songs that Christians are to sing:

 

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 

 

From this we understand that there can be variety in our music.

 

1) The word “psalms” ψαλμοῖς (ψαλμός, NDPM) is used seven times in the New Testament, four of which clearly refer to the Old Testament book of Psalms, but in this verse it could also be referring to “Christian songs of praise” (BDAG).

 

Psalms in the Old Testament were “sacred songs which were accompanied by musical instruments…” but there is evidence that in the New Testament and “the early Church, musical instruments probably were no longer used” (Glenn Graham, An Exegetical Summary of Ephesians, 2nd ed. [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008], 467).

 

2) The “hymns” ὕμνοις (ὕμνος, NDPM) are a reference to a “song with religious content” (BDAG). The word seems to emphasize songs that are sung in praise of the Lord God. One source I read said, “After Christians adopted the use of the noun, it was confined strictly to denote songs of praise and glory directly addressed to God” (Glenn Graham, An Exegetical Summary of Ephesians, 2nd ed. [Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008], 468).

 

There is evidence that some New Testament passages are actually parts of hymns sung in the early church and recorded for us in God’s Word. For example, there’s one in Colossians. Notice how it is addressed to and focused on God the Father and the Son.

 

12 Giving thanks unto the Father, 

which hath made us meet to be partakers 

of the inheritance of the saints in light: 

13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, 

and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 

14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, 

even the forgiveness of sins: 

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, 

the firstborn of every creature: 

16 For by him were all things created, 

that are in heaven, and that are in earth, 

visible and invisible, 

whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: 

all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:12–16)

 

3) A “spiritual song” ᾠδαῖς (ᾠδή, NDPF) is hard to nail down. Some Christians try to make this equivalent to modern-day praise choruses, but that’s not what Paul had in mind when he wrote this. It’s not necessarily a short song, it’s a spiritual song.

 

Generically speaking, it is a song that is sung in praise to God. But it could also be that it is a spiritual song that is about other religious themes than a direct praise to God and Christ.

 

Paul’s point of saying “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” is that there can be and should be a variety in our music. We can have great latitude in our musical expression. That leads us to an important question…

 

I. HOW WE CHOOSE OUR MUSIC?

 

How do we choose the music that we sing? A lot will depend on our personality, our tastes, our background and so forth. But I think we can draw out Biblical principles that will help us sort through the myriad of music to choose from. First, we must understand that…

 

A. Music Teaches Us

 

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 

 

How does one speak in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”

 

The word for “speaking” is a general word for verbal communication and does not necessarily mean that these songs are spoken, but sang. But why didn’t he use the Greek word for singing as he does later in the verse? Because songs are sermons. A very close parallel to Ephesians 5:19 is in Colossians.

 

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

 

Here the word, “speaking,” is replaced with two more precise words. Do you see them? They are the words, “teaching” and “admonishing.” Teaching is positive instruction. Admonishing is negative correction.

 

How does one teach and admonish another with songs? Are pastors supposed to sing their sermons? 

 

No…but music, all music, does teach and admonish us. Think about that for a moment. Every song—good or bad—that you listen to has the potential to teach you. 

 

Singing is not supposed to be just about our emotions and hearts, it’s supposed to teach us and admonish us. Why do we, as adults, stop singing the children’s songs we learn in Sunday School? 

 

For the same reason that we stop reading children’s Bible story books—we need more. Our adult minds crave deeper truths, and so we move forward to music that—hopefully—contains more of God’s truth for us.

 

Let’s not miss this. Often music in the church is considered “worship” and the sermon is called “teaching.” But it also works the other way around. The sermon is worship because it exalts God and his word. The music is teaching because it teaches God and his word.

 

This gives us a criteria in which to judge the music that we sing and listen to, both in and out of church. Should we listen to music that exalts premarital sex, divorce, drinking, or drugs? 

 

Seriously, that eliminates a huge majority of the music that is being played on radios today. What would country music be without the divorces and drinking?

 

I am not saying that every song we ever listen to or sing has to be specifically about Christ, but shouldn’t they at least be in accord with his nature—truthful, honest, pure, holy, merciful and loving? Shouldn’t they be music to his ears?

 

Music, bad music and good music, has the power to teach us, to admonish us. You would be careful what teachers you listen to—should you not also be careful what music teaches you? 

 

Don’t buy the self-lie that you don’t listen to the words, it’s just the music you like. There are two problems with that statement. 

 

First, you do hear the words, and they do teach you. You may not notice anything right away, but over time, it will affect you spiritually—it will cloud your judgment, lower your defenses, and even give you an idol to worship.

 

The apostle Paul expressed his desire to understand that what he sang—

 

15 What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also. (1 Corinthians 14:15)

 

Why would we as Christians sing a few songs on Sunday that exalt Christ and what he did to save us and then spend the rest of the week listening to music that exalts the sins that Christ died for? Can we really turn on and shut off our Christian faith like that? James says…

 

10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. (James 3:10)

 

We know that good works, being good, and saying the right things can’t save us. Only trusting in Christ to pay for our awful sins can do that. But as Christians, our lives should reflect the Christ who saved us. Music is a big part of our lives—does it reflect Christ? Is it blessing or is it cursing?

 

But there’s a second problem with the statement that you don’t listen to the words, it’s just the music you like. The second problem is that…

 

B. Music Affects Us

 

Obviously, more is involved in singing than just words—the lyrics. There’s the music, which can be defined as an…

 

…organized combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm. For non-musicians, melody is the part you can whistle, harmony describes the music that supports the melody, and rhythm is the beat. (C. J. Mahaney et al., Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008].)

 

There is what is called music by some that isn’t organized melody, harmony, and rhythm. It’s just the opposite, it’s disorganized, unmelodious, unharmonious, and focused only on a beat. That’s not a personal preference either, it’s a violation of the very definition of music. 

 

Music itself (without lyrics) has the ability to affect our emotions and our minds and our bodies in bad ways and in good ways. Why do we set Bible verses to music for children to sing? Because the music makes it more memorable. 

 

Why do some songs make us cry and others make us happy? Because there are patterns of music that can make us sad and others that perk us up. 

 

To most Americans, fast music in a major key sounds happy, while slow music in a minor key signifies sadness. (C. J. Mahaney et al., Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008])

 

Music can also affect us in various ways because of our backgrounds. Certain songs might be associated with events in our lives: our wedding, or high school romances, or whatever. Sometimes these associations are good things, but other times they are sinful associations that should be avoided.

 

We could go on about this—even secular psychologists have a great deal to say about how music affects people in good and bad ways. 

 

All I want to do here is alert you, if you don’t know already, that the music you listen to affects you. It’s supposed to—it’s music.

 

Are you aware of how the music you listen to affects you? Take some time this week and examine your thoughts and emotions as you listen to your music. How does the music—not just the words to the song—affect you?

 

Do you find yourself drawn toward Christ? 

Do you find yourself thinking sinful thoughts? 

Are you made happy? 

Are you depressed? 

Are you made angry? 

 

Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that music is of no consequence…that it doesn’t affect you. It does, that’s the power of music…that’s why we listen to it.

 

Don’t think that I want everyone to listen to hymns their whole lives. That’s not what I’m saying. There is to be variety. There’s a wide range for personal tastes and preferences. I listen to Classical, certain kinds of Christian and Country, and I’m starting on Celtic. I also listen to Soundtracks, but it doesn’t start with a “C,” so I don’t know where to list it.

 

But I am discerning about what songs I put in my ears…and you should be also. One great thing about our modern age is that we can pick and choose our music—CD’s, MP3’s, etc. We can be discerning. We should be discerning. The Bible says we should be…

 

8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

 

If there are CD’s or songs in your collection that wouldn’t please the Lord, then they shouldn’t be there. Think on godly things—think on godly music.

 

II. HOW DO WE SING OUR MUSIC?

 

Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 

 

We sing our music…

 

A. By Singing In Our Heart

 

It says here that when you are filled with the Spirit you will be “singing and making melody in your heart.” The word for “singing” ᾄδοντες (ᾄδω, NDPF) is the act of saying words in a melodious way. 

 

The Greek word behind “making melody” ψάλλοντες (ψάλλω, VPAP-PNM) is related to the word for “Psalms” and often has to do with making music with an instrument—originally plucking a harp, but then extending to all sorts of instruments.

 

Both of these are to be done “in your heart.” What does that mean? Contrary to what we might think, it does not mean that our singing and melody is to be silently made. We might say, “Pray along with me in your hearts,” meaning to pray silently along with us. Singing in your heart doesn’t necessarily mean to be silent.

 

What is meant by singing in our hearts is that our whole being is filled with music. It means that we mean it when we sing, and when we’re filled with the Spirit, we’ll mean it! When you are filled with the Spirit, the natural thing to do is sing, because you are filled with joy. When we sing like that, even off-key, it’s music to God’s ears.

 

How do we sing? By singing in our heart and by…

 

B. By Singing To The Lord

 

How do we sing “to the Lord?” One aspect of this is by singing something that he wants to hear. If someone sang to you a song that you didn’t want to hear, then they wouldn’t really be singing it to you, would they?

 

There is godly music and ungodly music. Godly music is what God wants to hear. It’s music to his ears. Ungodly music is music that he doesn’t want to hear.

 

I don’t mean that every song that we sing or listen to needs to be directly about Christ or about God, but that the music and the lyrics reflect godly values. Another way of looking at it is asking whether or not Jesus would listen to a particular song. 

 

Does the song promote values that Jesus would promote? If I may use Garth Brooks as an example, because I used to listen to him a lot—his songs are a mixed bag. 

 

An ungodly song would be “Friends in Low Places,” about being drunk in a bar or “When the Thunder Rolls,” a song about adultery. Could those songs be sung acceptably “to the Lord”? Of course not.

 

On the other hand, his song, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” is a song about a husband (although it’s not specifically stated) wondering if he had shown his wife how much he loved her during their lives together. It could be sung as an acceptable prayer to the Lord. 

 

And Garth Brook’s song, “Unanswered Prayers,” has always struck me as a good message about how God knows best for our lives.

 

So there is ungodly and godly music, music that God finds acceptable and music that God finds evil. Sometimes our songs will be directly about the Lord, and sometimes they won’t—but they’ll reflect God’s values—so they will all be sung “to the Lord.”

 

CONCLUSION/CALL TO DECISION

 

I can’t make you a list of good and bad music to listen to, but I urge you to ponder three questions about your music:

 

1) Does your music cause you to love Christ more or does it cause you to forget him?

 

2) Does your music cause you to think about things from God’s perspective or does it cause you to think about things from a worldly perspective?

 

3) Can you thank God for the music you listen to? Would he say, “You’re welcome”? Is it music to God’s ears?

 

Lord Jesus, we thank you for music—it’s one of the many beautiful things about the creation that you made for us. Yet Lord, like all things you made, it can be misused…

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