“Christian Music”, there are definitely a lot of things that can be said about that title. Of course the music doesn’t have a soul and it can’t save you. But when it comes to music and more specifically what music we listen to as Christians it can become a touchy subject. There are blatantly wrong things to listen to; songs that talk about murder, or adultery or poke fun at other people. But what about the other songs, the ones that only have “tasteful” swearing, or those songs that only talk about love and life? The Bible does explicitly tell us many things about our tongues, see the book of James, but it doesn’t specifically say “don’t listen to secular music because it will cause you to fall away”. There must be a reason for this, why is it so mysteriously silent when it comes to what we listen to? The best beginning for any look into secular life is to see clearly the goal that we have as Christians. The Bible makes it clear that we should go about our tasks with the desire of bringing glory to God. The same should be said about listening to music. So with that nugget in the back our minds, I think the best starting place for looking at what Gods word has to say about this topic would be in Ephesians where we are told “not to let any unwholesome talk come from our mouth, but only what is helpful in building others up” (Ephesians 4:29). But even with this verse I have heard the argument that it is only talking about what is coming out of your mouth, not what you’re listening to. To me these are not so easily separated, and I think that when we look at the context of the verses leading up to this verse in Ephesians we will see that the Authors intent was not to separate them either. Let’s begin by looking at the whole section from Ephesians for context, Chapter 4 verses 17-32:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore (he is drawing a conclusion here from the statements he just made) each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[d]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (and now the verse we quoted above)
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
When it comes to applying these verses to our discussion on secular music we can reduce it down to two points.
- Paul’s overarching idea in these verses is bringing these Christians who are struggling with sin (look at verse 17, he’s insisting that they stop living as the Gentiles) to live the life that God has for them! They are told to put off the old-self (v22b). He then transitions into his argument for what Christians should act like. He uses the word therefore to explain the point of why we should not live like this. We can see this in verses 25-32.
- Then as we aim directly at this issue we get to verse 29. We see two things in this point:
- First and most obvious is that this is a continuation of our first point. Talking in a way that builds people up is part of throwing off the old self.
- Second Paul tells us that he wants what we say to benefit those who listen. This idea of benefiting when Paul uses it here is an eternal benefiting. It’s not giving someone a warm happy feeling in their heart because you spoke nice to them. Paul wants your actions and the things that people hear from you to impact them for Christ.
Taking these two points I think that it is easy to see how listening to secular music can be a very negative thing. It fails to accomplish any of the points Paul is trying to get across to us here. The first point we saw was that Paul wanted us to put off the old self because we are a new creation in God. But if we hold onto these habits that the world also loves (for our argument it would be listening to secular music) how are we going to show the world that we are any different than they are?
Secondly, and I think most importantly, we made the point that our aim was to eternally benefit those who listen to us. The idea was that by listening to us they would be built up in Christ. By looking at the verse in this light I think that there is no way you can say this verse does not include both what comes out of our mouths and what we listen to. (On a side note I am not saying if you are out with non-Christian friends you can’t listen to what they are listening to, but what I am saying is that if you have any control over the music, as a Christian, you should listen to something that will build up both your own faith and others.)
In conclusion I think that if Paul were here today and had preached these verses to our church the response he would be hoping for would be something like this:
“Ok Paul, I agree with what you said, and since I have been taught to put off the old self and to put on the new self which was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness, I will not let the sun go down on my anger, but instead as Jesus commanded in Matthew 5 I will be reconciled to my brother. I will guard my speech so that those around me are built up by both what I say and what I listen to, and I will be kind and compassionate to others forgiving them as Christ has forgiven me.”
Finally I know that a question like this will be raised:
“Ok Josh I see your point I see that I should try to always build people up and help them see Christ, but do you really mean that I shouldn’t listen to any secular music? I mean I like lecrae and Hillsong, but I can ‘t live without my country or my Hip-Hop or my fill in the blank. I think that is a little harsh to so quickly get rid of so much music from so many talented artists that God has blessed with great voices.”
To this type of argument I have a couple comments from my own thinking and two Bible verses. First my thoughts. I think that it is a combination of many things that has us craving a certain type of music that does not sing of Gods praiseworthiness. It’s partly our fallen, unrepentant, sinful flesh and how easily it is pleased with cool lyrics and new drum beats, and it is partly the slow transforming work of the Holy Spirit to change our desires. I am left with a split decision here: on the one hand we know that God wants us to praise him for the creativity he has in His creation (The heavens declare the Glory of God), so if we listen to a singer who isn’t directly praising God and can glorify Him in this way of thinking then I believe He accepts that. However if, like me, you get to caught up in day dreaming when a cool song comes on or get to easily distracted by music videos or debauched lyrics I think it is far safer and better in the long run to stick to Christian music and when it starts to sound old or dry pray that God would open your heart to see his Glory and that the lyrics would strike true again for you. I back these words up with the verse in Philippians chapter 4 and one final question:
Verse 8:“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Ponder this question: who in your life fits all the criteria this verse has, who/what is most noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? That is what you should focus your praise and what your heart should be singing in song all day to. And if its not Jesus Take a Hard look at what it is and ask youself is this worthy of my attention when Jesus is knocking on my heart?