Music allows us to express our emotions in ways we would not be able to without music. The lyrics to our hymns are thoughtful and challenging, but the songs are moving and inspirational. The message of the hymn has more impact with the music because it is more emotional with the music. Just imagine the infamous funeral scene when a parade of police officers walks somberly through city streets, memorializing a fallen colleague, with the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace in the background.
And because music is so useful in expressing emotion, it is also useful in evoking emotion. Grieving police officers can express their emotion through the ceremony and music, but onlookers who never even knew the fallen officer become emotional when they see the procession and hear the music. Just like in that funeral scene, music in worship is so useful in expressing and evoking emotion that God uses it to motivate, encourage, and challenge us. In other words, music helps us “tune our hearts.”
Grieving police officers can express their emotion through the ceremony and music, but onlookers who never even knew the fallen officer become emotional when they see the procession and hear the music.
This happens to be the very point Paul is making in both Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16. Look again at Ephesians 5:18-19:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart
The primary action, and, therefore, the “command” in this section is “be filled with the Spirit.” The other verbs, “addressing,” “singing,” and “making melody” are participles. The best way to understand the purpose of a participle is to view them sort of like adverbs–they are actions that describe or explain the primary verb. In other words, “be filled with the Spirit” is Paul’s command, and his instructions about singing and making music to one another and to God are further explanation about how to be filled with the Spirit.
You see, Paul is not trying to tell us here what we can and cannot do in a Sunday worship service. Instead, he is helping us understand, in practical terms, how we can “be filled with the Spirit,” “tune our hearts,” and be the kind of Christian people we are supposed to be. He is telling us that musical worship, addressed to one another and to God, helps us accomplish our goal of being filled with the Spirit. But, that makes all the sense in the world, given how powerful, inspirational, and emotional music can be. If music can move us to tears at a funeral, why not to praise, joy, devotion, conviction, faith, or contemplation in worship? Why not a greater desire to be filled with the Spirit?
There is a problem, though, with Paul’s instructions. Not only do they require us to be careful and considerate about what we sing, but also about how we sing.
There is a problem, though, with Paul’s instructions. Not only do they require us to be careful and considerate about what we sing, but also about how we sing. If musical worship is intended to help us be filled with the Spirit, to be better Christians, then that means it is a serious and vital undertaking. I can’t be satisfied with second-rate and half-hearted singing because our spiritual growth is on the line. I have a responsibility to not only know what I am singing, but to sing it better. And it’s not just a responsibility I have toward God (though we should want to give God our best). This is a duty I have toward my brothers and sisters in Christ who are depending on me to encourage, convict, and inspire them with my singing, just like I am depending on them to encourage, convict, and inspire me.
This also means that I can no longer just write off those who “don’t get much out of the worship service.” I can’t just blame it on immaturity or an “entertainment-oriented” society. It may be my fault if you are not encouraged and built up. I am supposed to sing to you to help you be filled with the Spirit, and if you are not being filled then it may be because I am not singing to you as I should.
Our musical worship is supposed to be emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually edifying. So, if people do not leave the worship time better and more encouraged than when they came, then something is wrong–and the problem just might be the music.