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.
When Steve Jobs conceived of the iPod, he envisioned “music in your pocket”. His ideas changed the landscape of the way that we consume music. At the click of a button we can have our favorite songs, and only our favorite songs, in our ears all. day. long. “Thumbprint” radio stations, genius playlists, and hand-crafted stations mean we never have to hear a song we don’t like. A quick “thumbs down” and it’s gone. We can personalize the rhythms, the instruments, the artists, the time period—everything to suit our musical palette, everything to our specific preferences and liking.
But is that a good thing? Sure, it’s personalized, but is it profitable? What’s so delightfully enjoyable, is it edifying? I propose that the age of personalized music in your pocket has been a blessing and curse at the same time. We’ve developed a habit of hearing only what pleases us. We’ve become accustomed to rejecting what doesn’t suit our preferences. The habit of only satisfying the preferences of our own ears is a dangerous one. In Timothy, we are warned that a time will come when people will acquire for themselves teachers to suit their own desires. The context in Timothy is concerning preaching and teaching sound doctrine, but the principle applies to our songs as well since, as we’ve already looked at, our songs are a means of teaching and instruction as well. If we only “heap up for ourselves” that which suits our own desires, we are on dangerous ground.
Philippians 2:4 tells us “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We often think of those interests in terms of business or family affairs, but this applies to all interests, pursuits, needs, and wants. We should not only be interested in meeting our own needs and desires, but those of others as well. If we cultivate ears that are only attuned to what is desirable only to us, then how will we cultivate an ear that can compassionately listen to what is desirable to another? Because we are so accustomed to our own way in regards to music, churches now feel the need to have separate services for those who like traditional music and those who like contemporary music. So instead of becoming more unified, we are more divided, segmented, and disconnected. We think that we are keeping unity and peace, because at least now those who like the old hymns won’t argue with those who like the modern praise songs. But that isn’t unity. It’s isn’t real unity when we are only around those who agree with us, like what we like, and dislike what we dislike. True unity is tested by variety. Can we live beside another with different opinions, different style, different preferences, and still honor, respect and sympathize with them?
What I love about the Word of God is that not one word is wasted. “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”, all three terms, are all important. It shows that there is supposed to be diversity in our song choices when we sing to ourselves and to one another. It shows that for the word to dwell richly, for us to communicate all wisdom, we’ll need all those styles. Each one will have its own strengths and weakens; each will have its own purposes. Being finite and limited beings the Lord created us male and female so that both sexes together would be able to reflect the infinite splendor of the image of our God. Similarly, having finite words and musical forms, the Lord gave man the wisdom to create a variety of lyrical and musical styles to communicate His manifold infinite wisdom and boundlessly deep Word of God.
How diverse is your selection of Scripture–filled music? Does it cover the spectrum of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? In corporate worship, are you setting your musical preferences lower than those of your brothers and sisters in Christ? How are you learning to appreciate the various forms which the Word says should be used to teach, admonish and sing to one another?
Scriptures for Further Reading
- Matthew 26:30
- Mark 14:26
- Psalm 40:3
- Timothy 4:3
- Philippians 2:3-4
- Ephesians 5:19
Suggestions for Prayer
- Pray for the Lord to open your heart to the interests of others, not only your own interests.
- Ask the Lord to show you the differences of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and to appreciate the differences of those three.