I know what you’re thinking…”Southern gospel in the Bible? Southern gospel didn’t even exist until Vaughan and Stamps started selling their song books!” You obviously would have a point in that this genre of music is not specifically mentioned in Scripture. However, the Bible has plenty to say about music, and it has some specific teachings that I believe need to be applied to gospel music.
Twice in his epistles, Paul writes about the importance of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. I can never read those verses without thinking about what Dianne Wilkinson said in a blog comment a few years ago. (Here’s a lesson: take care with what you post on the internet, because it just might make a difference in someone, for good or for bad!) The basic gist of her comment is that our music, gospel music, can fit squarely into that “spiritual songs” category. I just happen to believe that God loves gospel music, and I believe, though it didn’t exist in its present form in the first century, He had it in mind when he inspired Paul to write these verses. I’m just going to use quick bullet points on the verses to try to show what God has to say about gospel music.
First, in Ephesians 5:18-20: “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; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- “be filled with the Spirit” – the most important thing about our music is that its participants have the indwelling Spirit, and the only way to have that is to be born again! Yes, I know there are lost people who listen to gospel music, and even (gasp) who sing gospel music, but to fully reap the spiritual benefits of it, you need to be saved and living a Spirit-filled life.
- “Speaking to yourselves” – I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian who said they didn’t like music, and there’s a reason for that. The first thing Paul mentions as evidence of being filled with the Spirit is music. I believe this “speaking to yourselves” applies to any Christian, not just those with special musical talent. This is listening to a gospel song in the car, humming during your chores, and even singing in the shower. Don’t be ashamed…God tells us to do it!
- “in your heart” – It makes all the difference in the world when what you are singing and hearing comes from the heart, and is not just a physical or mental exercise
- “to the Lord” – Music is one of the key avenues of worship, and remember that the object of worship should always be the Lord.
- “Giving thanks always” – There is no shortage, and nor should there be, of songs of thanksgiving to God. He is worthy of that, and more.
There is even more truth on this subject in Colossians 3:16-17: “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. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
- “Let the word of Christ dwell in you” – This time, the music is presented as evidence that the Word is firmly planted in your soul. Our music MUST be grounded in Biblical truth! If it’s not, then it’s not true gospel music, and is of no spiritual benefit.
- “teaching” – Have you ever thought about this? The Bible specifically states that our music should be used to teach one other! Sure, there is a place for songs with lighter subjects and maybe even humor, but there is also an important place for songs that present Bible doctrine. Don’t be afraid of songs with lyrical depth, because those songs can be used to teach us something from God’s Word.
- “admonishing” – Uh-oh…shouldn’t all of our songs be happy and positive? To admonish is to warn, or even reprimand. While our music should “accentuate the positives,” there are times when it must also warn of the negatives. Are we afraid to sing songs about Hell, or about judgment, or about God’s wrath, for fear of offending someone? Don’t be…the Bible tells us to admonish with our music.
- “with grace in your hearts” – Now that we’ve talked about dealing with negative subjects in music, it’s a good time for this lesson. No matter the message, it must be delivered with grace. Singers, don’t get up and sing a song, then treat people afterward like they were lucky to get to hear you sing. God help our music and our lives to be an exhibition of His grace.
- “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” – The music is not about us hitting the high notes or showing off our piano licks. In the end, all that matters is that it is being used to point people to Jesus.
Music fans, does the music you listen to honor the Lord and edify the believer? Songwriters, do the songs you write teach and admonish? Are they grounded in Scripture? Singers, are the songs you’re singing serving these purposes? Are you singing them with grace and love for those listening?
“Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”…let’s use them the way God wants them to be used.