“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;” Ephesians 5:18-19
There are many criteria to evaluate music (technical, poetical, structural, and stylistic criteria). These and other judgments on the subject of music lead to some wide variations in response to the question, “What, exactly, is good music?”
I would not pretend to be able to assert with absolute assurance that I know the exact totally definitive answer to that question. (I am honest enough to admit that, which puts me slightly ahead of a few other commentators.)
The specifics of these evaluations can (and will) be debated and discussed; asserted and argued; critiqued and criticized. The limitless variations of opinions and positions will establish “firm ground” for a high-minded few to point the finger of accusation at some and to extend a certification of “acceptable” to others.
I am convinced that these matters will not be settled until we all are singing perfect music in the presence of the Lord Jesus in Heaven. Given the stark differences of earthly opinions that are so pronounced among people who are otherwise in such unified agreement on every other area of faith and practice, I wonder if there are going to be some red-faces of embarrassment in the celestial choir. Is it possible that some folks (from one side or the other, or both) are going to be singing some music in Heaven that they once deemed as “unacceptable” on earth?
For now, I submit that the first and basic criterion that must be brought to bear is to determine what the music does. Other measures and evaluations can certainly be factored in. But, if the music fails to achieve a valid biblical purpose then it is worthless regardless of how highly it is regarded in other areas.
The glorious melody lifting to great emotional heights, a lush poetic lyric that comes to a thrilling climax in a glorious musical arrangement—yet fails to meet a Godly purpose is vapid of spiritual significance. The technically precise, traditionally styled anthem with only organ accompaniment that only succeeds in demonstrating the skill and talent of the performers also fails to achieve valid spiritual purpose.
In evaluating the results or accomplishments of music, there are some easily understood “minimum standards” for good music drawn from the unchanging instructions (not from personal interpretation) of the Word of God.
We can see what good music does from the Bible:
1. Good Music Proclaims Biblical Truth
We know that music is a powerful teaching tool.
“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.” Colossians 3:16
Teach what? We must teach that which we are commanded to learn—the Bible
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psalm 119:11
“And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” Luke 4:4
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105
If we are to teach the Bible with music, then the music in our church must follow scriptural purposes.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16–17
The words, lyrics, and themes of our music must be in accordance with the Bible. As we would demand doctrinal purity in preaching so must music be doctrinally pure. In music, God has provided a powerful tool for Christians to proclaim Bible truth.
2. Good Music Preaches Jesus
There are many Bible topics that music can address but there must be a heavy dose of Jesus in our overall repertoire of church music.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
Some beautiful so-called “Christian” music has no mention of God, the Lord, or Jesus Christ. Good music exalts and glorifies Jesus Christ.
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32
Even our songs of testimony should point the glory up to Jesus!
“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” 2 Corinthians 4:5
3. Good Music Praises God
“Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.” Psalm 150:1-2, 6
Good music praises God for who He is—His attributes
“Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven.” Psalm 148:13
Good music praises God for what He does—His activity
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14
Good music praises God for what He says—His affirmations
“My lips shall utter praise, when thou hast taught me thy statutes.” Psalm 119:171
It is always appropriate to praise the Lord! It is never out of place.
“Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” Psalm 107:15
4. Good Music Prods the Hearers
To quote Byron Foxx, “We want to produce music that touches the head, heart, and the will (volition).”
Music speaks to our emotions. There is a word to describe music that has no emotional element—boring. Good music does stir our emotions. But, that is only a part of it’s overall effectiveness in us. If it is only an emotional experience—then nothing has truly been accomplished.
Good music speaks to our head (intellect) in the language of our heart (emotion) so as to direct our spirit (will).
“I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.” Psalm 86:12
Good music ought to urge us, move us, push us, and prod us:
- To conviction
- To conversion
- To commitment
- To consecration
- To communion
- To comfort
5. Good Music Prioritizes the Church
“Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” Colossians 3:16
Music with a priority on the church calls believers to action! Military music rallies the troops around the flag. Christian music should rally believers around their Saviour. This kind of music stirs the church to obey the Great Commission.
Obviously there is music that God intends for us to sing as Holy Spirit filled believers. It is incumbent upon us (using Bible principles) to sing music that produces spiritual results. This is what “good” music does.