Music and Worship

Music and Worship
Tan Loseene

The Bible tells us to “[speak] to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Today, hymn singing forms an integral part of our congregational worship where we gather to sing before and during worship services. Yet, hymn singing should be extended beyond formal worship sessions, and be incorporated into our Christian life of faith. It should not be a formality but an expression of sincere praise to God. Just as Paul encourages us, we should edify one another and “make music in our heart to the Lord” in our journey of faith. This article examines the role of music in different aspects of our life of faith.

Praising God through Music

Very often, during congregational hymn singing, we are exhorted to sing and praise God with one voice. Yet this can only be achieved if we understand the reason for our praise to God. Let us study some examples from the Bible.

First, we praise God for His almighty works and His salvation grace. As early as the time of Moses, music was used to allow a group of people to praise God in one accord. After God delivered the Israelites across the Red Sea, Moses and the children of Israel sang a song to the Lord, praising Him for His almighty works (Ex. 15:1-21).

The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation; He is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will exalt Him. (Ex. 15:2)

As we congregate for worship services, we have to remember the amazing works of God in our lives and reflect on His salvation grace for us. When we do so, our hearts will overflow with songs for God and, from the depth of our hearts, we will sing in one accord to praise and glorify the Lord.

Second, regular congregation service aside, there will also be special significant events for us to praise God with one voice. It could be a church dedication, a spiritual convocation or a church anniversary. For example, when the ark was moved to Jerusalem, King David was so jubilant that he led the people of Israel in a mass celebration of praise. It was an occasion to celebrate and rejoice over God’s special providence and to remind the people of God’s wonderful grace it was a special, significant event. The Bible describes that “David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals” (2 Sam. 6:5).

Third, hymn singing can promote fellowship with Christ and with our brethren. The Lord Jesus and His disciples used music to praise God together. The Bible records that it was only after Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn that they went to the Mount of Olives (Mt. 26:26-30, 14:22-26). Followers of Christ continued this practice; Silas and Paul prayed and sang hymns to God in prison (Acts 16:25).

The Lord Jesus promised that when two or three are gathered in His name, He will be in their midst (Mt. 18:20). When we gather as a congregation to sing, we are having fellowship with our brethren, as well as with our Lord Jesus Christ. Such fellowship goes beyond the usual worship service, and can happen at any juncture of our Christian journey of faith.

It is easy to sing hymns of praise when we are happy. However, to be able to sing to the Lord together with our brethren in times of trial creates a kind of fellowship and encouragement that mere words cannot express. In the midst of trials and tribulations, the music and words of hymns can remind us of God’s faithfulness. They will comfort and reassure us, and lift up our spirits once again.

A few years ago, a member in Singapore passed away. His family, who were not believers, requested the church to conduct the funeral service. As this funeral service coincided with the church’s spiritual convocation, only a handful of believers were able to attend. On the way to the funeral service, these believers were worried that there would not be enough people singing hymns during the service. When the funeral service began, the hymn “God Understands” was chosen. As our believers sang the hymn, they felt as if God had sent His choir to sing along with them. In the end, the hymn touched, comforted and encouraged not only the bereaved family but also the brethren who helped with the funeral service. They experienced how God personally had fellowship with them as they sang.

Indeed, music can be a powerful tool that draws us closer to God and helps us to feel His presence. All it takes is to sing to the Lord with sincerity of heart and with one accord!

Teaching the Word of God through Music

Teaching through oral and written instructions is commonly accepted as effective means to pass on knowledge. However, we see that songs or music can also be an effective way of teaching. Paul tells us that psalms, hymns and spiritual songs can be used in teaching and admonishing one another.

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. (Col. 3:16)

When Moses was about to hand over his leadership to Joshua, the LORD commanded Moses to write a song and “teach it to the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel” (Deut. 31:19). This song, recorded in Deuteronomy 32, is an account of God’s deliverance, commandments and divine qualities. When Moses taught the people how to sing this song, he urged them to take the word of God to heart: for it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess” (Deut. 32:47).

David and Solomon also understood the power of music in teaching God’s word. Thus, they wrote many psalms to teach others how to praise and worship God. Today, we may not have access to the original music that the psalms were set to, but many teachings in Psalms and other portions of the Bible have been set to music within our hymn books.

When we sing hymns, do we pay attention to the teachings of God that are outlined in the lyrics? Do we commit them to heart, so that they can encourage us in times of need? As sermon speakers or religious education teachers, do we make an effort to choose hymns that reinforce our message so that the word of God can be emphasized through our singing?

Some churches also conduct hymn services where the congregation worships primarily through hymn singing, accompanied by words of encouragement and Bible reading by a service leader. The service leader guides the congregation to understand spiritual teachings and Christian truths through the hymns that are sung, and the congregation can be encouraged to reflect and praise God in one accord.

We can then take this one step further, and apply the Biblical teachings found in the hymns we sing to our daily life of faith. We will then lead a life that is pleasing to God. When we look into David’s life and read his psalms, we notice that he lived according to the words that he set to music. This makes the message that he is trying to convey through his psalms extremely powerful.

The Spiritual Element in Music

I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding. (1 Cor. 14:15)

In the Old Testament, music worship often involved a spiritual element. When Saul joined a group of prophets in prophesying, they used a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute and a harp (1 Sam. 10:5). Later when David became king, he and the captains of the army set apart musicians to prophesy with harps, stringed instruments and cymbals (1 Chron. 25:1).

Moreover, music was not only used in prophesying, but also in spiritual warfare. Whenever an evil spirit came to King Saul, young David “would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him” (1 Sam. 16:23).

When King Jehoshaphat was attacked by the kings of Moab and Ammon, the LORD sent word through the prophet and told him, “Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chron. 20:15). As a result, King Jehoshaphat appointed singers who should praise the beauty of holiness” to go before the army. As they began to sing and to praise the LORD, God defeated their enemies (2 Chron. 20:21-24).

Today, spiritual warfare can still be fought with music, as an example at Irvine church in the United States demonstrated. As the ministers were casting out demons, an elder was inspired to ask the congregation to support them not only with prayer but also by singing the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Indeed, this helped to subdue the evil spirit.

Many members and observers have also testified to the spiritual power of music when they were suffering from life-threatening illnesses or when they were in great pain. When members visited them in the hospital and sang hymns, they would immediately feel God’s peace. Therefore, we should not underestimate the spiritual power in music. Music for God is very different from that of the world because God is in the picture.

Service to the Lord through Music

Indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God. (2 Chron. 5:13-14)

If we examine the Old Testament worship, we find that choirs and musicians played a very important role in the entire nation’s worship of God. King David, for example, appointed skilled full-time singers for the tabernacle from among the Levites to sing before God day and night (1 Chron. 6:31-48; 15:16-19; 25:7; 9:33-34).

When the ark was brought into the tabernacle that David had constructed, David appointed 4,000 Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to celebrate, thank and praise the LORD (1 Chron. 16:1-43, 23:1-6). Later, when the ark was finally moved into the holy temple, the trumpeters and singers made themselves heard with one voice to praise and glorify God (2 Chron. 5:13).

2 Chronicles 29:27-28 records that King Hezekiah gave order to sacrifice burnt offerings. While the whole assembly worshipped, the singers sang and the trumpets sounded until the burnt offering was completed.

Ever since the time of King David, singers and musicians were considered part of Israel’s worship, even in the service of purification. They sang songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving (Neh. 12: 45-46).

All these examples show one thing: trained and dedicated musicians and singers were an important part of worshipping God. They ministered on special occasions, such as the dedication of the temple and the sacrifice of burnt offerings. They also served God every day, showing Israel how to praise the Lord and leading them to praise Him in one accord.

Just as the musicians did in the past, today, we can use our musical skills to serve in the church, participating in special events, such as spiritual convocations or gospel outreach programs. Also, in our regular church services, home fellowships, religious education classes or even during family worship time, musicians or choir members can lead and accompany the believers in the worship of God. In fact, the church choir can be likened to the army of the Lord, going forth to fight a spiritual battle, especially during evangelistic services. The choir members therefore need to be aware of their role in this spiritual warfare, and to prepare and cleanse themselves for spiritual battle.

Likewise, if we lead the congregation to praise God in our everyday worship, we need to cultivate ourselves spiritually, so that we can serve God as worthy vessels and lead by example.

Personal Devotion through Music

In the preceding sections, we have touched on singing and making music as a community of faith. However, music also forms a very important part of a Christian’s personal devotional time. Many of us will naturally hum or sing when we are happy. In fact, elder James tells us to sing psalms, whenever we are cheerful (James 5:13). David understood this very well, as can be seen in many of the psalms of praises that he wrote. But David also sang when he was in deep sorrow.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him. For the help of His countenance. (Psalm 42:5)

Whenever David sang, he would be reminded of the great hope that is found in God. Subsequently his sadness would turn into renewed hope and praise.

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. (Col. 3:16)

Hymns and music can also help us to express our thankfulness to God, our confessions and our joy as we read the Bible, pray and reflect on our day. In fact, the NIV version of the above verse translates grace as gratitude. In addition, hymn lyrics can help us to remember God’s words.

Apart from the active use of music in our personal devotion to God, we should also consider our choice of music in relation to our faith. When we are at church, we normally sing from our hymn books. At home, however, besides enjoying hymns and other Christian songs, we may also listen to music on the radio, download songs off the Internet and keep up to date with the latest popular songs. Sometimes, we may know the lyrics of popular songs better than the lyrics of hymns.

However, the lyrics of many modern day songs leave a lot to be desired. Not only are some of the themes questionable, the lyrics are even worse. Sometimes we sing along without even thinking about what we sing. Elder James warns us that the tongue is very hard to tame:

With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God (James 3:9).

Today, are we praising God with hymns at church, and yet, singing curses and other undesirable lyrics as we indulge ourselves in the latest pop song? Certainly, not all popular songs are bad. However, there are quite a number of pop, rock & roll and hip hop songs that promote violence, sexual immorality, drug abuse, occult practices and even anti-Christ sentiments. Very often, the lyrics are secondary to the ‘good’ feeling that these songs evoke. We may like the pounding rhythm and beats, coupled with the showmanship of the musicians. More often than not, we do not even realize that these songs carry insidious messages that will enter deeper and deeper into our mind each time we listen to these songs.

A very good example is the early 1970s’ popular song ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. Its melody and the ideals it expresses are very beautiful as the song asks the listeners to ‘imagine’ a better world. However, take a look at how the song starts …

Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky …

In this song, John Lennon paints an unrealistic picture of life in the listeners. He imagines a world without heaven, without hell and without religion. He sees a world without countries, borders and without wars. Although such a dream may seem admirable to many people, his dream is about abandoning God and His word! If we sing or listen to such music very often, our hearts will be ‘corrupted’. For this reason, we should be careful about our choice of music. For whatever we regularly listen to can dwell in our hearts, leaving no room for the words of God.


See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. (Eph. 5:15-21)

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. (Col. 3:16)

Both passages above encourage us to make psalms, hymns and spiritual songs an important part of our lives. We have seen the importance of music in Christian worship both for the congregation and the individual. However, in order to truly please God with our music and singing, there are a few things we should note:

* The word of God must be deeply rooted in us.
* Be wise and understand what the will of the Lord is.
* Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
* Have a heart of thanksgiving.
* Be submissive to one another in the fear of God.

If we take all these things to heart, our use of music in worshipping God will never be a formality. Instead, it will be a deep expression of our love and reverence for God that will glorify God and edify both others and ourselves.

This article ‘Music and Worship’ by Tan Loseene was excerpted from: Manna magazine. Issue 63. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes ‘Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.’