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Articles

“The Power & Seduction of Music”

Joseph Fletcher, the Scottish political activist of the 18th century, once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation. I care not who makes its laws.” Music can have a greater impact on the thinking and behavior of individuals than even the laws those individuals live under.

 

Fletcher saw music as a powerful tool for political change. Indeed it still is. Music can be used to inspire revolution because of its inherent connection to our emotions. As one man said, “Music is the language of the soul.” However, as I hope to explain, music’s greatest strength (a vehicle to express human emotion) is also its greatest weakness. Here, we are speaking in the realm of music in general and not specifically music directed toward God as worship.

 

Every song carries with it a worldview, a philosophy, a way of seeing the universe that is being expressed musically. That message, whatever it may be, is birthed in the creative minds and skillful hands of the musicians, carefully crafted in the studios of Nashville, TN or Brooklyn, NY, then digitally snipped, cut, and packaged into its most palatable form by producers to be devoured by you, the consumer.

 

Consumption of that message takes place in the most sacred human space called the heart. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Wisdom pleads with us to be careful what we pour into the sacred wellspring of our heart because, like a well of water, our heart is easily changed by what is poured into it. Exposure to and acceptance of the message a song is espousing will have consequences on our thinking and behavior (Mt. 15:18-20).

 

Because music reaches us on an emotional level more effectively than other forms of communication, music should be regarded as a gift from God. If you have that gift you should be using it. You may be able to bring blessing through the power of music to the hearts of others. But use it cautiously because music is also very seductive. As I stated before, music’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.

 

Music can be perverted for ungodly use when an artist uses the vehicle of music to express a sinful message. Like sermons teaching error but delivered in flattering and flowery speech (2 Tim. 4:1-5), the lyrics of a song can easily be cloaked in an attractive melody. I can’t tell you how many songs I loved to play and sing along to only to find out once I examined the actual language of the song what message was being communicated. One obvious lesson we should take from this is to, as the song says, be careful little ears what you hear. If our heart is being shaped by the songs we listen to we must guard against being seduced by attractive music while swallowing sinful content.

 

Pay careful attention to the message of the song before you allow it to take up residence in your heart. Passages like Philippians 4:8 are extremely valuable as filters for our heart, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

 

Many forms of music have no lyrical content at all. Classical, jazz, and other forms of “music for music’s sake,” though bereft of words, are not bereft of power, meaning or influence.

Let’s move to the realm of music in the context of worship. It is interesting that God wishes for us to praise Him with music. But what kind of music does the Lord of the universe desire? Notice the few New Testament passages on song worship we are given give very little direction on the form that music is to take. We are simply told to “sing” (Jas. 5:13) with the “fruit of [our] lips” (Heb. 13:15) “making melody with [our] heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). We are given freedom as to the form those “hymns, psalms, & spiritual songs” take as long as we “sing” them. Notice God emphasizes content not form. Our worship songs glorify God when their content is spiritual (Col. 3:16). The primary way worship music reaches us emotionally is with words that resonate and make melody in our hearts as we sing them. The physical melody is secondary. This is not to say that no attention should be given to the physical melody or that melody can not be beautiful in its own right.  The Biblical picture is that the physical melody is mean to facilitate Biblical instruction.

Contemporary worship music has gotten away from this content-first, participatory approach in favor of a form-first, observation approach. The emphasis is less on instruction and more on producing emotion through the form of music. In worship, God wishes us to use music as a vehicle of expression that points to His glory. When the content of our worship music is given a back seat to form the music no longer points to God but is, in a sense, pointing to itself. Worship music is no longer a means to an end (to extol the virtues of God & express truth) but becomes an end in itself, a subtle form of idolatry.

 

Why have we changed the recipe for God’s simple plan for song worship? I believe it is because of the seductive power of music. Because music has the potential to sound so beautiful we become infatuated with form at the expense of content. This is no big deal with secular music but when it comes to worship music content must precede form. In so doing, we share the guilt of Esau who exchanged the holy for the common.

 

In Amos’ day, Israel was “at ease in Zion” and had turned the worship of God into an exercise of self-indulgence. They were those who “sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music” (Amos 6:5). The prophet says “Woe” to them! (6:4). They had no awareness of the meaning and instruction of the songs of David and sang them as idly as any other common song.

 

The irony is that the very thing that could have brought the Israelites out of their sin and closer to God (true, spiritual worship) had been perverted as a tool to gratify their own pleasure and pushed them further away from God. Let’s not make the same mistake.

 

If we stay true to God’s simple recipe for worship everybody wins: God is glorified, we grow closer to Him and more like Him, and unbelievers will see that “God is certainly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25).