Selecting Music for the Glory of God

Dear Zion,

Last month in this column we saw that there is nothing more important than God’s glory. Everything we do is to be done for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31). So if this is true, how should we think about our worship services, especially the songs that we sing? How should God’s glory affect our worship music?

First of all, we should note that, if the singing portion of our worship services (and we do much more in worship than just sing!) is for God’s glory, then that means it is not for us or about us (Psalm 115:1)! It’s about our Triune God! We come to “worship Him in the beauty of His holiness” (Psalm 29:2). So often, it easy to find ourselves thinking, “This song doesn’t speak to me,” or “I don’t care for the style of this song.” But the problem with both of those thoughts is that the subject is me and not God! Biblical worship is about pleasing the Lord of Hosts and doing His will, not about pleasing myself and having my way (Matthew 26:39; Romans 12:1-2). If you ever think to yourself that you simply cannot worship God because of a distaste for the music that is being sung, ask yourself this: am I here to worship God for His glory, or am I here for my personal preferences and my glory?

So if we recognize that God is supreme in worship and that we come to please Him, what does that tell us about the kinds of songs we ought to sing? A principle that all Christians must learn to become emphatic about is that our songs must have biblically faithful lyrics. Above all, we must be careful that what we say or sing in our worship services falls in line with God’s Word and brings glory to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It might seem like nearly all songs today – whether hymns or Christian pop played on the radio – are quite biblical or spiritual in their lyrics. But we must be cautious. Scripture warns us over and over again that simply using spiritual sounding language is no guarantee that it is pleasing to God (Jeremiah 6:14; Matthew 7:22-23). Jesus warned His disciples not to be like the hypocrites that offered pious sounding words in their worship (Matthew 6:5-7). Going through hymnals, it is often amazing to see what songs have been included, and yet – based on their words – these songs have no business being used in worship. The same can be said of some contemporary songs as well.

One sure fire way to make sure our lyrics are pleasing to God is by using words that the Holy Spirit inspired. We can sing the words of Scripture! The Apostle Paul encourages us to “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). When we sing “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or “All Creatures That On Earth Do Dwell,” we are singing Psalms 23 and 100 set to verse and music. Psalm singing has a long pedigree in Christian – and especially Reformed – churches and to the extent that we can sing God’s Word back to Him, it roots Christ in our hearts and glorifies Him. Even when we sing songs that are not direct quotations of Scripture, it is important that the lyrics, theme, and general message reflect biblical truth.

But what about the musical tune? Scripture may give guidelines on the what of our singing (the lyrics), but our Bibles don’t come with melodies or four part harmonies. What about the how of singing (the tune/arrangement)? Much could be said on this topic, but we can certainly all agree that the music should 1) correspond to and, 2) enhance the lyrics. Probably all of us can agree that Psalm 23 should not be accompanied by heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll, and that Psalm 2 should not be sung to the tune of “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” When a melody and arrangement matches the energy and direction of the lyrics, even those of us who aren’t very musical recognize a happy harmony exists between tune and text. We will consider this concept further in future articles.

Praying with you for Christ to be glorified in our singing and in our lives,
Pastor Brian

The Glory of God for Worship

Dear Zion,

One of the things I enjoy doing most with you is spending time in worship to give glory to God. Thinking about what we do in worship helps us to realize how important it is to bring glory to God in all that we do.

The activity of bringing glory to God is something that we learn chiefly from God Himself. Everything our Triune Lord does brings praise, honor, and glory to Himself. Scripture is replete with the fact that everything God does is glorious, and it is all “from Him, and through Him, and for Him forever” (Romans 11:36). Even our existence falls into this category, as we are those “whom I created for My glory” (Isaiah 43:6-7). “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” and the purpose of this was “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:4-6). More specifically, He called Israel “in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3). When He brought Israel through the Red Sea in the Exodus, it was for His glory (Psalm 106:7-8), and it was this same reason He never forsook them in their later rebellions (I Samuel 12:22). For the glory of His Name’s sake, God forgives our sins (Psalm 25:11; Isaiah 43:25), He welcomes us (Romans 15:7), He gives us the Holy Spirit (John 16:14), and brings us to our heavenly home (John 17:24) – all for His glory! When God tells us in Isaiah 48:9-11 “I will not share My glory with another,” John Piper reminds us in his book Let the Nations Be Glad that God’s ultimate goal is His glory, and that “the most passionate heart for the glorification of God is God’s [own] heart.”[1]

So when we live our lives for God’s glory, we are joining with the Almighty Jehovah in the most important activity in the universe: glorifying our glorious God! We pray for God’s glory in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory!” Even our sin is primarily about God’s glory: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our obedience and evangelical service is for God’s glory (Philippians 1:9, 11; I Peter 4:11). We are to do everything for God’s glory: “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

Reformed Christians have emphasized this important truth for centuries. Over four hundred years ago, the Westminster Catechism started Question #1 by asking, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer? “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The most important thing we can do as human beings is to glorify and enjoy God.

So not only do Christians give their every living, breathing moment for the glory of God, but we explicitly set apart time on the Lord’s Day – Sunday – to worship Him in the beauty of His holiness (I Chronicles 16:28). This worship that we render to God is subtly different from how we glorify God throughout the week. During the week, we glorify God at our jobs and vocations individually by faithful obedience. But in worship, we gather corporately as the Body of Christ, called out of the world as His washed people in the name of our Triune God. In corporate worship, we do not worship God as we choose, but as He has commanded us. As the First and Second Commandments remind us, we must not only worship the true God (First Commandment), but we must worship Him in the way that He prescribes (Second Commandment). We are commanded to be very careful to do only what God has commanded us to do, and not to turn aside to our own ideas or desires (Deuteronomy 12:28).
As we worship our Lord together on Sunday, may we be a people who glorify God throughout the week, and then gather to glorify His Name together as the Family of God. He is glorious!, and it is our privilege to worship Him in the beauty of His holiness.

Praying with you to worship our glorious God,
Pastor Brian