We are to worship God in all aspects of our life, doing everything in a way that ascribes honor, glory, and worth to Him. One of the ways God has ordained for His people to worship Him is through music and through song. He has blessed people with musical talents for the express purpose of creating worshipful songs and leading His people in a worship experience through song (1 Corinthians 15:16). This can only happen, however, if the church heeds the principles that God has given in terms of what makes music worshipful. Some music is created expressly as an outlet for anger and bitterness. Other music is meant to supplement other forms of immorality. Some music is meant as an escape, but worshipful music is meant to praise God. God is honored by music that lifts up the name of Christ, that ascribes glory to God, that aligns with the truths of Scripture, and that edifies the believer. Worship music is all about the exaltation of God. It is not something to be used manipulatively as a means to conjure up certain feelings. Neither is it something to be dismissed as unimportant or to be taken lightly. Worship done unbiblically can twist and warp our hearts and minds. On the other hand, worship done rightly can truly elevate our souls and fill us with joy as we praise our Lord. It is a powerful, powerful tool that God has given us, and He wants us to enjoy it and take full advantage of it.
Jesus said in John 4:24 that those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. This means that God cannot be worshipped through lies or the lack of truth. This is why true worship songs must adhere to the truth of Scripture. Songs that sing only about us and our experience will fall short of enabling the believer to praise and exalt God for Who He is and what He has done. Truth implies thinking and meditating upon what the Bible says about our Lord. Therefore, empty-minded, feel-good melodies are insufficient in enabling us to worship. It is one thing to enjoy a particular melody and another altogether to be worshipping God through it. The mind must be engaged in praising God, not just enjoying certain feelings and sensations. True worship is also in spirit, meaning that God can only be worshipped by those who have been redeemed through faith in Christ. The spirit of the unsaved man cannot worship God, for it is hard-wired for corruption (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:23). Even believers need to take care to approach God with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4). When God’s people come with humble hearts and alert minds, God can be praised when they sing true things about God in a way that honors God and that in no way whatsoever appeals to the lust of the flesh in a carnal manner. Anything that distracts from focusing upon God and His Word is to be cast aside. Worship is not a place for showmanship, entertainment, or people-pleasing. It is a time to be caught up with the glory of God.
Christians have varying tastes in music, and there is a wide spectrum of musical styles that can be worshipful when combined with the right words. However, not all musical styles are appropriate for a corporate worship service. It is just plain impossible to think reverently toward God to certain melodies or to certain instruments played certain ways. The Spirit must give God’s people discernment in wisdom in leading His people to praise the Name of Christ. When a sense of awe is being created for God and not for the music itself or the musicians themselves, we will be on the right track (Acts 2:43).
The Bible references percussion instruments, string instruments, and wind instruments. Interestingly, the piano and organ, two instruments that have been historically commonplace in worship, are not mentioned in Scripture. Of course, we should not assume that the piano and organ are less capable of being worshipful than, say, a guitar, flute, trumpet, or drum. But we ought not to necessarily assume that they are more capable either. Again, it comes down to how instruments are played. After all, they didn’t have electric guitars back in Bible times, but we shouldn’t categorically rule them out in having a place in modern worship. The key is being able to use various instruments as a catalyst to draw our attention to God, away from ourselves, away from evil things, and toward the truth of Scripture.
Some Christians think somber is spiritual and upbeat is sinful, while others take just the opposite view. But the Bible doesn’t make it so simple. Somber might imply reverence, but it could also impede the full expression of the joy and awe in our hearts. Upbeat might be more engaging, but it could also be used for mere entertainment value. This is why the tempo and tone of a song are not necessarily defining criteria of worship. Both somber and upbeat may be appropriate in their time and place. The question at the end of the day is whether or not God was worshipped, and we can only know that if our hearts were right and if we praised Him with the words of the songs.
Some Christians get locked into a particular genre of music or a particular era of music and refuse to accept that we are to sing new songs to the Lord (Psalm 33:3). The Bible even opens the door to dancing and shouting praise to God (Psalm 47:1, Psalm 32:11, Psalm 150:4). Yet this is not a license to ignore great songs of the past which faithful men and women have written as a testimony to God’s glory and faithfulness; neither is it an excuse to bring worldly practices into the house of God. We need to think through what we are doing not in light of what we prefer or feel but according to what the Bible has said. We should be open to new songs and new melodies that truly worship God in truth and that enable us to worship in spirit as well. We will always get into trouble when we try to let the world dictate how the church does worship. The Bible alone ought to dictate our worship.
Worship is a holy and humble encounter with God in spirit and in truth. This will never get old or boring, and it will inspire new songs. Our God is awesome, and our music should enable us to be caught up in praising God for that fact.