The Power of Music

“Whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him” (v. 23).

- 1 Samuel 16:14–23

Music is a key component of most Christian worship services, and so it has also been at the center of many of the controversies the church has faced regarding worship. Are instruments permitted in worship or must we only sing a cappella? Should we stick to the classic hymns from the past or can we use contemporary songs? These questions all concern music and the way we use it in our worship services.

Undoubtedly, the power of music explains why the battles over music and worship have been so fierce. So many of the most important events of our lives have musical associations. Couples have “their song,” which generally refers to a favored piece of music that has been particularly meaningful to their relationship. We might not remember the song we heard on the radio yesterday, but many of us remember a school alma mater or fight song because these tunes are connected to key memories from our youth.

The power of music is displayed in other ways as well. Music has been used on the battlefield to boost morale and give soldiers the emotional strength to fight. Entire worldviews are communicated in the songs of a particular generation. At least since Plato, older generations have lamented how the music of younger generations is corrupting youth morally and intellectually.

Scripture communicates the power and importance of music to us in many ways. The book of Psalms is filled with references to instruments and singing, indicating that music has an appropriate place in the worship of our Creator. In some cases, music also has a kind of spiritual power. Today’s passage, for example, records the interesting account of David’s ministry to King Saul through music. Evidently, the evil spirit that tormented Saul would flee whenever David, as court musician, took up his lyre and played for the king (1 Sam. 16:14–23).

These examples of musical power indicate that we dare not be naive when we think about the kind of music we use in worship. Whatever music we use in worship, it will set a certain atmosphere, and it will either enhance the other elements of worship or it will create a sense of aesthetic and even theological dissonance. Its lyrics will either present God in all His majesty or they will obscure Him and His glory. Music is not a matter to be taken lightly. It is an art form, and all art forms communicate something to us.

Coram Deo

Scripture prescribes no particular kind of music, so the choices of music we use in worship and even for leisure must be guided by Christian wisdom. Is the music true, good, and beautiful? Does it present what is noble, pure, and praiseworthy? If our music does not do these things, it may not be appropriate for us to listen to in private and is certainly not appropriate for worship (Phil. 4:8).

Passages for Further Study

1 Chronicles 23:2–6
Zephaniah 3:17
Ephesians 5:18–21
Revelation 15:2–4

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.