addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart
Ephesians 5:19 (ESV)
I’m presently reading a book with a chapter that uses an old hymn to teach doctrine. It has repeatedly made me think of this verse. In context, this verse is talking about knowing truth, living wisely because of it, and speaking it to one another.
Before I go any further, let me say that I am not particularly opposed to any genre of music. I’m not going to use this as a forum to advocate for hymns only in church or that people only ever listen to Gospel music. I’m making a point about a specific purpose of music, the art of which I fear we are losing or perhaps better said giving up.
An often repeated Christmas song is the 12 Days of Christmas. The history behind this song actually speaks very well to my point. During a time of religious oppression, this song was used to teach children about various points of doctrine. I won’t give you a thorough history lesson of what it all means, but for those of us that love history, it is fascinating to learn more about this particular song. What I will do is tell you that music is an extremely effective way to teach children. Think about the ABC song. We teach our children the alphabet using music because it works. Be honest, don’t you sometimes catch yourself still singing it in your head when you are trying to find something listed alphabetically? You’re not being dumb when you do this; you’re doing this because music is a very useful tool for getting something really ingrained in your mind. From the basic building blocks of language (letters) to deep truths about God, music helps young and old alike learn and retain valuable information. So maybe God knew what He was talking about when He spoke through Paul telling us to use “songs and hymns and spiritual songs.”
We tend to gloss over the meaning of songs these days, but if you look at a lot of the old hymns, they taught very deep truths about God, they communicated doctrinal truths that helped keep singers grounded in their beliefs. It’s a lot harder to articulate our beliefs when we don’t know them as deeply as we know the songs speaking those truths. And many young people today cannot tell you for certain what they believe, even having attended and participated in solid, Bible believing churches their entire lives. They’ve had good Sunday school teachers and good pastors who have communicated God’s Word, but for some reason it hasn’t really sunk in.
There are many reasons for this; I’m not saying music is the entirety of the problem and solution. But I am saying that we have gotten a lot more shallow in our music. Not across the board. I have been blessed to attend some very good churches whose music directors are careful to use only music that turns the attention to God and teaches Biblical realities. However, I do listen to Christian radio from time to time (admittedly less and less often as I am able to use streaming apps to listen to sermons or the Bible itself), and often the songs I hear don’t really lead me to a place of worship. They focus on me and what I can do or can’t do. They’re pretty, catchy, upbeat. But they don’t take me to a place of looking at God, who He is, and what He has done for me. I don’t mind listening to that now and then, but worship flows out of awe and what I hear often falls short of that. It isn’t teaching me much.
We are supposed to speak in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another. And that can happen with any genre or style of music, but the point of this music should be to encourage each other, build each other up, help each other build a foundation upon which we can settle our lives so that when stormy seasons come, we don’t waver. We need that stability because life will throw things at us that we cannot handle with shallow faith. Music is a way (not the way) we can establish a deeper faith, it is a way we can speak into each other’s souls. It is worth considering what our music is teaching us or isn’t. When we meet together, let us remember we are meant to point each other to Christ.