Music – Gift or God?

Back in November I had the privilege of speaking at the Christian Musician Summit in Seattle, WA. In one of the main sessions, I spoke on the topic of Music:  Gift or God? and mentioned that I’d post my notes on my blog. I had forgotten until someone emailed me the other day asking for them. So here’s what I shared…

Music is a very good gift. The 13,000 songs on my iTunes are testimony to that. My eyes have often welled up in tears as I’ve been affected by a lyric, a chord progression, or a musical texture. I’ve thanked God for the gift of music more times than I can remember.

Whenever I think about my love for music, I’m reminded of what Martin Luther said in a Foreword to a 1538 collection of chorale motets:

“I, Doctor Martin Luther, wish all lovers of the unshackled art of music grace and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ! I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God… A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”

While we may not want to emulate Luther’s attitude, most of us will readily agree that music is a gift from God.

And that’s the problem. Scripture tells us that gifts can often become gods. Good things can become idols.

In Numbers 21, the Israelites grumbled against God and it resulted in him sending poisonous serpents. When they confessed their sin and repented, God had Moses cast a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Anyone who looked at the serpent would live. It was a good gift. But later on in 2Kings 18 we read that Israel had been making offerings to the serpent, and even gave it a name – Nehushtan.

Good gifts can become gods.

Music turns from a gift to a god when we look to it for the joy, comfort, power & satisfaction only God can give. Here are 5 indicators that might be happening.

1. We choose to attend a church or a meeting based on the music rather than the preaching of the gospel and God’s word.
Nowhere in the Bible are we told that the church is to gather around music. We gather around the crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ. We gather to hear God’s Word in the Spirit’s power. Eph. 2:13-14 says the blood of Christ unites us, not music.

2. We can’t worship in song apart from a particular song, style, leader, or sound.
Anytime I say, I can’t worship unless X happens, or X is present, unless X is the death of our Savior on the cross for our sins or the power of his Spirit, we are engaging in idolatry. At that moment, X is more important to us than God’s command to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. That doesn’t mean that there are no bad songs, lousy leaders, or inappropriate styles. But being discerning is different from being unable to worship God at all.

3. We think music leads us into or brings God’s presence.
Here’s what music can do. It can affect us emotionally. Create a mood. Soften our hearts so that we listen more intently. Help us hear words differently. Distract us from what’s going on. Help us focus on what’s going on. Help us remember words. And more.

Here’s what music can’t do. Make God more present. Bring God’s presence down. Bring us into God’s presence. Manipulate God. (Heb. 10:19-22; 1 Tim. 2:5).  There is only one mediator, and it’s not a song, style, leader, or sound. It’s Jesus Christ.

4. Poor musical performance leads us to sin against other band members or the musicians leading us.
We’re hardly representing God’s heart when we get angry, frustrated, or impatient with musicians who don’t play up to our standards. God’s standards are perfection, and they’ve been met in Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life in our place and died as our substitute, enduring the wrath of God in our place. ALL our offerings, no matter how well or poorly offered, are perfected through the once and for all offering of the Savior. We can strive for excellence to serve others, while extending to others the same grace we’ve received.

5. A love for music has replaced a love for the things of God.
It’s possible to listen to music that’s destroying your soul and be completely dull to it. To become enslaved by an idol and you feel like you’re breaking free. In his confessions, Augustine said “For he loves thee too little who loves along with thee anything else that he does not love for thy sake.” I have no doubt we love music. But do we love music for God’s sake or for ours?

To sum up:
Music is useful, but not necessary.
Music is good. But Jesus is better.
Music is a gift, but not a god.
Music isn’t my life. Christ is.

The gifts of God are meant to deepen our relationship with God and create fresh affection for him. Not replace him.

May we enjoy and make music to the fullest of our abilities, all for the glory of the one who gave it to us to enjoy in the first place.

You can download a more expanded copy of my notes here.

34 Responses to Music – Gift or God?

  1. Josh December 21, 2010 at 8:38 PM #

    I really appreciate your blog. It always seems that when there is something that I’m meditating on, your blog seems to speak to me about it giving me the answer I often need when I need it. This topic is one of them. I often am thinking that I don’t know what I’d do if music were taken away from me. Really, what I ought to be thinking is what would I do if my Savior were to be taken from me? I know this could never be because He promises to always love us. Music could easily be gone tomorrow, but Jesus’ love is eternal.

  2. Jason December 21, 2010 at 8:56 PM #

    A convicting read.

    Worship music was what helped me come back to God, one song in particular – “Heart of Worship.” The song struck me because through it, God convicted me of my idolatry of music, showing me that I worshiped music, not Him.

    Thank you for posting this. It’s a good reminder.

  3. Donn December 22, 2010 at 12:58 AM #

    Thanks Mr. Kauflin for another fine essay that will find itself
    printed and included in my music ministry reference folder.
    Good stuff! Important stuff!

  4. Judson Lim December 22, 2010 at 2:31 AM #

    hey bob kauflin,
    im reading your book WORSHIP MATTERS. Its been helping me a lot. Its been 4 months since i’ve been leading worship at my church. I’ve been definitely voicing what i’ve been learning through your book. Thank you.. i know people thank you often, and you have people come up to you telling you how much they are blessed by you… but you dont even know how thankful i am. I am glad that God is gracious enough to choose you to lead worship at your church, which helped you learn about worship, which got you to write a book, which got me to read your book and learn about worship, which got me to tell others about it, which got me to read this article.. which in turn, brings me to me my knee’s before our God. Thank you.

    love Judson Lim

    • Bob Kauflin December 22, 2010 at 9:02 AM #

      Judson, thanks for your very kind and encouraging words. God is good.

  5. Jeremy December 22, 2010 at 3:09 PM #

    Good post, brother. I agree that music cannot, in and of itself, bring us into the presence of God. Yet it does seem to make us more aware of God’s presence. It does seem to help us receive the theology conveyed through the lyrics more gladly and sometimes more wholly. Kind of like how a good illustration or story makes theology more real and tangible. Another thought…After Solomon rebuilt the temple, the ark was brought in. Then, the priests and the people started singing and playing instruments, praising God, then the glory of the Lord came down on that place. It seems music had some part in bringing the presence of the Lord into their midst. Interested how to handle that scripture (2 Chron. 5) in light of what you said.
    Thanks again!

    • Bob Kauflin December 22, 2010 at 4:05 PM #

      Jeremy, good thoughts. I said more about that topic in the fuller copy of my notes which you can download in the post.

  6. Anonymous December 23, 2010 at 9:00 AM #

    Finding a “local” church was extremely difficult after spending five years at a somehwhat-local church with professional musicians, and the last year at a somehwat-local church with one of the leading singer-songwriters in Christian music. While I came to the realization it’s not about the music before discovering this post, I can identify with a number of indicators. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Taylre December 23, 2010 at 12:01 PM #

    Wow.

  8. Rizkia December 25, 2010 at 11:11 PM #

    Bob, Thank you for the encouragement for me.
    I am reading your book, worship matters..
    It’s good for our service to God in student fellowship in Jakarta, Indonesia…God bless you and family

  9. Your blog help other to open eyes. December 27, 2010 at 9:08 AM #

    After reading your blogs I take what God wants to teach me, then I share your URL to friends who serve the Lord in the Worship area in Latin America. Your blog is a blessing for many people there.

    • Bob Kauflin December 27, 2010 at 12:53 PM #

      Luis, thanks for using my blog to serve others.

  10. steve d January 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM #

    I was about to argue a little bit against point #2 but then you did say it: “That doesn’t mean that there are no bad songs, lousy leaders, or inappropriate styles.”

    I think in the modern West we have two problems that lend itself to having music be such a big issues:

    1. We’re Consumer Christians in a Consumwer Culture. We are used to changing a channel or a radio station if we don’t like what we hear. There are also churches on every other corner in America; we tend to think if we really “comparison shop” enough we will find that church with all the things that please us.

    2. Whether it’s a real mental illness, idsability, or simply a lack of self dicipline in our culture it seems everyone (including me) has A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. now. We are easily distracted. If the worship music, style, or talent level is not one that the hearer easily connects to or loses themselves in, the next thing they know they are not thinking about Jesus or the lyrics, but thinking about lunch, or the girl who is singing, or the time, etc.

    There seems to be this real fine line between distracting “worship” music and music that facilitates it. I might be horribly distracted, even feel oppressed by sark forces if the worship style is reggae or hiphop or death metal, but another feels the same or feels sleepy or oppressed by a pipe organ, a country twang acoustic worship, or a choir.

    So where do we go from here?

  11. Adrian January 30, 2011 at 9:37 PM #

    Bob,

    I wanted to thank you for posting this. It’s been both convicting and encouraging. I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years, but I’m a relatively new worship leader with a lot to learn. Again, thanks and God bless. BTW, just about finished with Worship Matters, thanks for that too :)

    • Bob Kauflin January 30, 2011 at 9:57 PM #

      Adrian, thanks for your encouraging comments. God is good. Thanks for serving your church with your gifts!

  12. Jesse July 18, 2011 at 4:57 PM #

    Guess what folks. God wants us to live and enjoy life. Does the bible not say God gives us things to enjoy or something like that. I wish people would stop thinking God is some kind of selfish being that wants us to basically cese to exist out side of saying his name or thinking of him. I think God loves to see his creations living free of this idea that every breath and thought has to be directed to God in some way. We know he loves us. We know we love him. If we live in a way that respects and honors him what more could he ask? It would be like a kid and a parent when the kid and the kid never growinging and doing anything without thinking of his dad. I dont know it just seems like so many of us are obbsessed over God instead of just loving him and enjoying the pure things God gave us to enjoy. Some people will hate me for my freedom in christ. To me that is becaise they are jeloius of it.

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