The following message is based on 1 Samuel 16:14-23, explaining what church music is designed for: to assist us in our worship of God. It was delivered on May 6, 2012
Music is powerful. It places us at different times in our lives. I can remember as a youngster that I used to hum a tune after I prayed, to calm my spirit so I could go to sleep. Someone at prayer meeting on Wednesday spoke of how Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City,” placed him back in his service days. Still another spoke of how she would come to church during a difficult time in her life and the hymns especially touched her. Just recently, a church member remarked how Dottie and Karen’s Black’s rendition of “My Tribute,” especially ministered to her during her time of loss. Today is Choir recognition Sunday. We are reminded that sacred music does so many things for us. One of Central’s strong points has been its music program. We are grateful to everyone involved in our music program. You minister to us every Sunday.
In our text for this morning, we see the value of music to the soul. Saul was tormented by an evil spirit; the Hebrew is vague. It could mean a harmful or distressing spirit, as the New King James puts it. Regardless of what type of spirit it was, the sending of it was part of God’s judgment against Saul because he disobeyed the Lord by not destroying the Amelekites in chapter 15. Saul feared people more than he feared God. The church father Tertullian said: “God grants the devil power to inflict trials on humans in order to bring about their sanctification or punishment.”
In the Old Testament, God’s Holy Spirit rested only on Prophets, Priests and Kings. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit inhabits all believers in Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit had left Saul to reside upon David, Israel’s future king. As part of God’s sovereign provision, David was appointed the court musician for Saul. As he played on the lyre, Saul’s heart was put at rest and he was able to function. 1 Samuel 16:23 tells: “So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” This morning, I’d like us to consider a couple of aspects of this portion of our worship experience. First of all,
MUSIC IS ANOTHER MEANS TO PRESENT GOD’S WORD.
The music that David played would undoubtedly be the psalms written from the time of Moses. The Psalms were Israel’s hymn book. Many were written by the Sons of Korah, a special designated group that led the people of God in worship.
There’s a lesson in good church music. There’s a text that appears within the selections, but also in the bulletin itself. Donald and Sally are teachers by calling; you will find them employing that approach on a continual basis. Just like the sermon, our challenge is to be in a position to receive the message in the music, regardless if it fits our style. Music draws intellectual and emotional responses. Some music is meant to be lively and rhythmic; other music is meant to be smooth and legato. Music is meant to invoke a response in us.
There is value to singing the Doxology, the Gloria Patri and other regular numbers. Music affords us an ability to share, as well as listen and appreciate. Music is a gift. There are two sides to musical element of our service. Our choirs present God’s message in song, whether that be Cherubs, Juniors, Dorians Bells, Celebration Brass, Chancel Choir or Brasswinds. Our musicians help us feel the themes. It might not be a wow song. Or your sense of wow is not another’s sense of wow. That’s why we aim to have an eclectic program. There is a goal in mind: to minister God’s message to you through music. The more styles we’re presented with, the more capable we become of understanding and appreciating other musical forms. And, the more we appreciate, the more we are likely to be moved and inspired. So, be adventurous. Expand yourself.
The more we understand the closer we become to our Creator. We gravitate to what we know. Music affects the soul. Music is another way that we can “…be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2).” Music touches us on an emotional level. That is what the arts do. They touch the soul. Personally, when Keith Maurer sings: “Bow the Knee,” I can’t help but become emotional. Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Van Gogh struggled with mental illness most of his life. He would read Shakespeare and become so bothered that he had to go outside and meditate on a blade of grass. Nature was his “music.” Unfortunately, he was a troubled man and took his own life when he was just in his mid 30’s.
But if we are not careful, we fall prey to thinking that music is meant for entertainment, just as the sermon or the presentation may be for entertainment. So, if we’re not entertained, we leave disappointed. The sermon and music don’t have entertainment as their goal. They might contain portions of entertainment, but that is not what they are there for.
And we can be wrongly influenced by music. Some popular music has the foulest messages; many of which are overtly sexual and violent in their meaning. Jimi Hendrix, the iconic guitarist of the 1960’s once stated: “Music is a spiritual thing of its own. You can hypnotize people with music and when you get them at their weakest point you can preach into the subconscious mind what we want to say.” What are the values, ideas and philosophies being presented to the minds of our young people? Parents’ Music Resource Center found five major themes that rock music returns to repeatedly: rebellion, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and perversion, violence and the occult. These themes are blatant and recurring. Our minds are like computers: garbage in; garbage out. In contrast, we try to marry the text to the music. Look for it and use it as another means of receiving God’s word.
Moreover, our culture has made religion such an intensely personal and individual matter that we make it intensely self-centered and void of a sense of community. Dr. Soong-San Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism states: “While there are times when we should express our personal adoration of God, should the subject of the majority of our songs be the great I rather than the great ‘I Am?’ Worship, which should be the ascribing of worth to an Almighty God, can become an exercise of attaining personal self-fulfillment.”
In contrast, worship music is meant to exalt God. Psalm 108 states: “My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. 2 Awake, harp and lyre; I will awaken the dawn! 3 I will give thanks to Thee, O LORD, among the peoples; and I will sing praises to Thee among the nations. For Thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; and Thy truth reaches to the skies. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory above all the earth.”
MUSIC INVOLVES US. IT IS ONE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICPATE IN THE WORSHIP EXPERIENCE.
Music is also an opportunity for us to add something to the worship experience. Worship is meant to be a participatory exercise. You’re not coming into this “auditorium,” to see a show. You are here to offer up something to God. Colossians 3:16 is a directive: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”
Music has always played a role in the worship of God. The Sons of Korah were musicians meant to aid the Israelites in their worship. In addition, Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples before He went to the Mount of Olives, as part of their Passover observance (Matthew 26:30). So we ought to give God our best when participating in it. Are there some practical suggestions for this?
John and Charles Wesley were two brothers that felt called of God to bring about a renewal movement within Anglicanism, what later came to be known as Methodism. Both loved music and Charles Wesley wrote many of our favorite hymns like “”And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and “Rejoice, the Lord is King.” In 1761, the following rules were singing were written by John Wesley:
- Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
- Sing with passion and courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
- Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
- Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
- Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Dr. Sam Logan, former President of Westminster Seminary and my advisor at Biblical Seminary, is quite animated when he sings in a worship service. He pours himself into the experience. You come away being inspired by watching him sing hymns. There’s nothing wrong with getting into it. Fred Seipt, avid Penn State football fan, once said: “Why is it that we can get excited for a football game and not about God on Sunday morning!?” That’s a very good point. Offer to God your best and get into it, as God enables us.
 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. IV, p. 263.
 Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 35-36.