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Reflections on the Ultimate Purpose of Music

I. Man is created to worship God – God created man to value Him above all things; to worship Him and nothing else. This is our purpose—to glorify him by worshiping him. This is a most basic truth, without which we would have no foundation for objective meaning and purpose in life. [If any would differ with this basic understanding, I would recommend them to Jonathan Edwards’ Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 1 of 2, Peabody, 4th Printing (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004 Reprint), pp. 94-119, or the more recent rendition of Edwards’ arguments in the writings of John Piper—particularly in God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998). The relevant biblical material and the argumentation from it is astronomical, and cannot be delved into on this short post.]

II. Worship includes more than, but no less than, music – In our worshipping of God, we are to consider every action, every thought, every feeling, as an act of worship (Rom 12:1-2). This means that worship involves much more than music. One does not necessarily have to have music to worship God. One can glorify God by the way they talk, by the way they treat my friends and family, by the way they pray, by the way they share Christ with others, etc. Thus, on the one hand, one can worship God in many ways which do not necessarily involve music. On the other hand, the biblical concept of worship includes no less than the praise of God, and as I will argue, this praise should often be offered to God with musical accompaniment.

A. God intends music to be used to his praise and glory – God created music. He created music to be used to His praise and glory. This is not just one of many ways music is to be used, but it is the main and ultimate purpose of music under which all other uses are subordinate. We know this in at least two ways.

1. Everything is created for the glory and praise of God – First, we know God created music for His glory and praise, because He created everything for this ultimate purpose, and in all of His interaction with mankind, this purpose stands out by far as the ultimate purpose of all His works and interaction with His creation. Furthermore, all the good deeds of people are to be done in hope that others will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

2. God commands and delights in having various musical instruments to accompany His praise – Secondly, we know this to be true because we know that obedience gives glory to God, and the Old Testament psalms are sprinkled with commands like this:

“Praise the Lord! … Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing. Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:1,3-6).

Note: It is surely fair to say that we must not interpret these commands crassly and miss the spirit of them. That is, it would be hermeneutically insensitive to conclude from these commands that we are obligated to use the exact type of instruments they used before the 3rd century B.C. (when the psalms were compiled and canonized) such as the lyre, the harp, the pipe etc. (as opposed to more modern instruments like the piano and guitar). However, these commands carry with them at least this: that God desires musical instruments of various kinds to be used in accompaniment of His praise. The alternative is to suppose that although God desired and took delight in the praise of His people being accompanied by various musical instruments, for some unknown reason He has stopped taking delight in such things and would now rather us leave musical instruments out of our time of praise. To deny the force of these commands by refusing to let them carry over this bare minimum continuity of varied musical accompaniment with praise is to leave the commands with virtually no substance; to nullify the commands altogether. Finally, God would not command us to do anything that did not bring Him delight. Therefore, God delights in having musical accompaniment in our praise to Him.

Note: This does not mean that every time we praise God, we must have musical accompaniment as though we were to keep silent unless or until we can praise to the sound of music. That would be another wooden and legalistic interpretation of these commands.

III. Some churches deny their congregation the use of musical instruments for the accompaniment of praise—what’s wrong with this picture? – If it is true that God created music for the ultimate purpose of accompanying His praise, what are to we think of local church leaders who would deny such accompaniment in corporate worship? It would seem (based on the scripture) that since we are created to worship God, and music was created by God to assist such worship of Him, then it should be used to that end. Is this truth not most relevant to the church?—the people of God whom He has redeemed for the very purpose of praising the glory of His grace! (Eph 1:6,12,14). Indeed it is. Various objections, however, have arisen through the years against the use of musical instruments. Next post, I intend to give a critical evaluation (in both senses) to some common objections to the use of musical instruments in worship. I hope that in the time between, you will comment on this blog about objections you have heard—or have—to the use of musical instruments in the local church. If they are substantial, I might treat them in my next post. If they are not, I might examine them in my next post anyway. One objection has to do with the regulative principle and its application. After this, I intend to look at some of the factors each church should weigh in the balance when deciding on what particular style of musical accompaniment will best edify the body of Christ in a given context.

Extra: Some other passages concerning the use of musical instruments.

II Samuel 6:5 – “David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals.”

Ps. 150:3-5 – Here we are commanded to praise God with trumpet sound, harp and lyre, timbrel and dancing, stringed instruments and pipe, loud and resounding cymbals.

Ps. 149:3 – “Let them praise his name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.”

Ps. 147:7 – “Sing praises to our God on the lyre.”

Ps. 144:9 – “I will sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You.”

Ps. 108:2 – “Awake, harp and lyre; I will awaken the dawn!”

Ps. 92:3 – “With the ten stringed lute and with the harp, with resounding music upon the lyre.”

Ps. 98:5 – “Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn Shout joyfully before the King, the Lord.”

Ps. 81:2 – “Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet sounding lyre with the harp. Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.”

Ps. 33:2 – “Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of then strings. Sing to him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”

Isaiah 38:20 – “The Lord will surely save me; so we will play my songs on stringed instruments all the days of our life at the house of the Lord.”

Habakkuk 3:19 – “The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places. – For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.”

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