Music is something that our culture enjoys quite a bit. New hits and crazy pop albums are rising to the top of the charts all the time. Most people have a phone or an mp3 player of some sort with hundreds (if not thousands) of songs on it. Concerts are very popular events nowadays where people gather to hear their favorite band play their latest single. Let’s face it; we love music. But do we ever stop to think about what music does to our lives? Do we ever actually consider that some music could harm our relationship with our Creator? Do we really want to support and jump up and down for artists whose lives are terrible examples of Christ? It’s true that God made music, and that it’s a wonderful thing. But like almost anything in this world, Satan can take music and use it in deceitful ways to accomplish his goals. We must always be on the lookout for the Devil’s lies, even when they come in the form of “innocent” love songs or “harmless” suggestive lyrics. Nothing should be allowed to compromise our faithfulness to God, and we need to have wise and discerning minds when deciding what to listen to and what not to listen to.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31
Who Are We Talking About Exactly?
Some “Christian” artists nowadays seem to have the notion that labeling themselves as followers of God automatically makes their music glorifying to Him. They sing passionately about life issues and love, and allude to God every now and then by speaking to an unnamed figure in their songs. This, in my opinion, is one of the most ineffective ways of representing Christ. I mean, if you’re going to talk to God or about God in your song, why don’t you call Him by His name? Unless, of course, the center of attention in your song is not God, but someone else.
So many lines in “Christian” lyrics sound like this: “I need you/Don’t leave me here alone.” They refer to someone, but the listener doesn’t really know who that “someone” is. In the line I just gave, the singer could be talking to almost anyone. They could be talking to their father, their brother, or their girlfriend. Now sometimes, the artist might just feel that using the pronoun, “you” is fitting in this part of the song. Maybe they later elaborate on this person and reveal that He is God, or maybe the artist meant the person to represent a friend in their personal life. But I think that more often than not, this “undefined figure” technique is a way to appeal to a greater audience. Only a small group of listeners is going to want to hear a song focused on the singer’s conversations with God. A much larger crowd wants to insert their boyfriend or girlfriend into the song’s story so it can relate more to their personal life. When the person referred to in the song is ambiguous, this is an easy task. So, what does the songwriter do? He cleverly makes the figure’s identity obscure, thereby satisfying both crowds. While this may be an easy (and seemingly innocent) way to sell more records, the consequences of it are disastrous. Glory to God is lost, and very few souls are drawn to Christ through the music’s vague message. Appealing to man’s desires is never the answer. We must appeal to what God wants of us, and seek to glorify Him in the clearest and most effective way possible. This is not done by robbing passionate songs of their eternal meaning.
“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” – Psalm 40:9-10
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that every single song a Christian makes has to talk constantly about God. Songs written by Christians don’t always have to only be about God, just like books written by Christians don’t always have to only be about God in order to glorify Him. In fact, this is where I believe other artists get it wrong; they talk about God so much and in such a cliché manner, that glory to God is just as lost as it would be if the artist didn’t talk about God at all. The lyrics in these songs shout the overused Christian phrases we’ve heard so many times, to the point where the songs become fake, manufactured worship experiences. This act of false passion and fabricated joy is a dishonor to our Lord, and should be avoided just as much as apathy for the mention of His name.
Believe it or not, lyrics aren’t the only thing we as Christians should analyze when discerning between different artists and albums. The motive of the singer is incredibly important as well. Who are they singing for? Do they seek to direct praise to God, or to themselves? We must be wise when deciding whether or not an artist glorifies God in the way they sing their songs.
Pride is rampant in the music industry today. It’s undeniable. Self-glorification has become the norm in the secular world, and whether we want to admit it or not, it’s definitely penetrated the Christian music sphere as well. Christian artists in multiple genres have stooped to a horrible, “Look at me!” attitude, becoming more and more like the world all the time. This is what we are to avoid.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
In a time when we don’t often get to see who our favorite musicians are in real life, it’s sometimes hard to tell if they have a humble, God-honoring spirit in their music. I’ve found that a good way to reveal an artist’s motive is to look up one or two of their live performances on the internet. This usually gives you an instant look at their heart. Unfortunately, what you see may not always be pretty. Many times, I have realized after seeing a “Christian” band’s live performance that they really don’t care that much about having a humble, contrite heart (Isaiah 66:2). All they care about is putting on a show that people want to see. This shows that their motive is not to give God glory, but to be in good standings with the world.
“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” – James 4:4
Clearly, we have to make a choice between the world and God. We can’t have both. But that’s what many artists who call themselves followers of God try to do nowadays. They put their albums in the “Christian” sections in the music stores, but they worship themselves when on stage. It’s sad, but it’s a reality we cannot ignore.
Of course, all musicians are different. We can’t judge them as a whole. Instead, we must decide what to listen to on a case-by-case basis. Just because a Christian singer has innocent album covers doesn’t mean their songs are glorifying to God, and just because a non-Christian artist isn’t singing about Jesus in his music doesn’t mean that it’s a sin to listen to him. Wisdom is most certainly required in the world of music. For instance, I decided a long time ago that I would no longer listen to certain Christian rock bands. Why? Well, I knew that the people behind the tunes put on very prideful performances, and that they rarely, if ever, mentioned God by name in their songs. The Holy Spirit bothered me with this a lot. I tried to rationalize the fact that I still listened to these bands with tons of arguments in my head, but eventually I realized that God was clearly telling me I should not be listening to this music. So I quit. I don’t think that all Christians who listen to these bands are sinning, but I know that God wanted me to stop for the reasons listed above, so I did.
On the flip side, two artists I listen to a lot nowadays are not Christian. That might seem a bit hypocritical of me at first, but let me explain. Almost all of the songs made by these musicians have no lyrics. This is the main reason why I believe it’s fine for me to listen to them. I like the melodies in the songs, and there aren’t any harmful words or themes in them. Also, the artists’ performances are almost always clean, and listening to their music doesn’t negatively affect my spiritual life in any way. I wouldn’t go to one of their concerts, but I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying their songs.
Compare music to other media. Many Christians can read certain books by non-Christians and not have their walk with God hindered at all. In fact, many times a Christian can draw a lot of truth out of a secular book. The same is true of musicals, movies, or websites. In a lot of situations, even if the main goal of the maker of a work isn’t to glorify God, we as Christians can benefit from the work without dishonoring our Lord in any form.
We must be careful not to take this too far, however. If a non-Christian’s work contains profanity (or anything else) that has the potential to knock our focus off God, then we should avoid it. We shouldn’t make any excuses that we know aren’t true, like “I can handle it” or “It’s not that bad.” If we sense that it could be dangerous to us, we should flee from it instead of finding reasons it’s ok.
Wisdom is necessary in all of life, and should be applied just as much in music as in anything else. If a band constantly sings about the world’s definition of romance, it probably wouldn’t be wise to listen to them. If a Christian band poorly represents Christ, we should think twice before becoming their number one fan. Let God reign in every part of your life, including what music you listen to. Do what you believe God would be most glorified in, not what’s most convenient for you. We must forsake all that we own for Christ if necessary, and giving up a questionable song for the glory of our King is a small price to pay.
“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” – Psalm 105:33
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Colossians 3:16
“It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” – Ecclesiastes 7:5