A condemning prophecy in Amos 6, directed at God’s people in the end time who are leading a materialistic lifestyle, shows that music is one of the major factors bringing down Israel (see verses 3-6).
Verse 5 says they are into music “like David”—it looks righteous, but it’s leading them into captivity! (verse 7). How can that be? Well, we know that Satan himself poses as an angel of light. Certainly this shows that we cannot simply take a cursory glance at music and determine whether it is good or not, because we could be falling into one of Satan’s deadliest traps!
Christians must know how to discern good and evil—especially when it comes to this ever elusive subject of music.
Must Judge With ‘Senses Exercised’
In Hebrews 5:14, the Apostle Paul commends those mature Christians who “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Because of music’s spiritual nature and profound influence, we need God’s mind—that is, the power of His Holy Spirit—to discern good from evil. We need spiritual maturity, as Paul points out.
We must not underestimate the importance of our senses in this process, however. After all, God’s Spirit combines with the human spirit. As Paul points out here, our physical, carnal senses must be exercised “by reason of use.”
The Greek word translated exercise means to train in a school of athletics—connoting Olympic training. We must train ourselves to discern! The Greek for discern means judicial estimation. God wants our senses to play a part in discerning. They must be sufficiently exercised and experienced for God’s Spirit to guide them in making appropriate judgments.
“God equipped humans with the sense of hearing. How much inspiring, uplifting, pleasurable enjoyment we receive from beautiful music! But of course, this sense, too, may be used for good, or for evil” (The Missing Dimension in Sex).
Exercising our senses to discern good and evil requires a lot of individual judgment. The Church cannot come up with a list of good bands and bad bands, good music and bad music. Not only would that job be overwhelming and impractical, it would deny people the character-building experience of exercising their own senses, coupled with God’s Spirit, to discern good and evil.
We all need to be able to discern, meaning our senses must be exercised. The purpose of this article, therefore, is not just to lambaste the obviously and overtly satanic heavy metal or hard rock music, or simply to say something like rap isn’t really music. Nor is it just to praise the obviously wholesome types of symphonic music. After all, it shouldn’t take too much discernment or exercise to make those decisions.
Most questions come in the middle area—the areas that perhaps we all wonder about. That is where discernment is most necessary.
So what are our judicial tools? Is music appropriate if it simply “sounds good”? Using that reasoning with the sense of taste, a lot of junk food would be good. Using that reasoning with the sense of sight, movies and pictures that offer immediate gratification would be considered “good.”
The answer to these questions isn’t in just accepting a certain type of music as good and rejecting other types as bad. It isn’t just sacred music or “classical music,” or nothing! This is why our senses need to be exercised in discernment.
The Bible talks about three general traditions of music, all in a positive light: David, for example, was skillful on the harp. Temple musicians are described in Scripture as having a good amount of training. We could call this category fine art. David composed some of the Psalms while he was herding sheep, which could be classified under the folk tradition. Luke 15:25 refers to “music and dancing”—music appropriate to dance to, or popular.
Quality music can be found in all three classifications. We could say that a good majority of fine art would be acceptable in that it generally does not have a negative effect on moods, and it offers intellectual stimulation. It also stands to reason that Satan would get the most mileage out of exploiting the popular tradition of music—the one designed to entertain and appeal to a wide audience. This would be especially so in the age of mass communication, as this enables him to get his moods and messages across more easily.
Though caution and discernment should be applied to all music, popular music is generally where we need it the most.
Empowering Our Young People
Music is more important to the youth than most adults realize. As we grow up, we lose this fascination with music. We don’t sing, whistle or hum as much as we used to. So we forget how much music shapes a child’s or a teenager’s mind.
Parents and ministers need to be concerned about the young people and their music. Strengthen and empower them with that Olympic training. Satan wants to do violence to their minds!
Not only are we living in Satan’s world, but the final minutes of it since he has been cast down (Revelation 12:9-12). Should we not watch our mind and emotions more closely than ever? Don’t allow yourself to get caught up blindly in what is coming over the airwaves.
Young people: Even though you do not have God’s Holy Spirit yet, you need to exercise your senses as well. And here’s a secret that no one in this society will tell you: Getting wrapped up in this world’s music is just playing into the hands of those media moguls who want to make millions off you. They’re counting on the fact that you’re not discerning; that you’ll just accept what they tell you to like! Don’t let them do that. Don’t let them run your life. Be empowered. Train your senses. Be aware of your musical choices.
Obviously, you young people must trust your parents and obey them. With most of the youth in God’s Church, your parents or guardians have God’s Spirit. They need to be involved in the judgment and discernment of the music you listen to because of these spiritual components.
Much of the music that Satan pawns off appeals to teens, but the adults, repulsed by it, write it off thinking that there is no way anyone could like that music. But it conveys an attitude or an idea that a younger mind can relate to.
Of course, sometimes even young people don’t enjoy it. They’ll force themselves to like a certain brand of music because it is identified with their “friends,” their peer group, their sport, or perhaps even a commercial for a favorite product.
The discerning process goes beyond the sound of the music. What is this sound packaged in? What are the artist’s or band’s ideals? What are they promoting? What dress standards are they transmitting? What do the graphics on the album depict?
Some might ask: Weren’t some of the greatest classical musicians and performers perverts? Even music performed at the Ambassador Auditorium under Herbert W. Armstrong was largely composed and performed by carnal men—some with twisted personal lives. The difference is, when an artist dons a tux and bow tie, his lifestyle is not on display. Rather, there is an exaltation of quality music and training showing the highest that the human spirit, mind and power God created, could achieve. Had a musician performed in an outfit that flamboyantly displayed a degenerate lifestyle, he would not have been performing there.
Here is a simple question to ask: Is the personal lifestyle of the artist on display?
The persona of popular musicians in our society is far more noticeable and persuasive—and it’s designed to be! This is especially true in the case of young minds trying to identify with a certain look, style or peer group.
There are three questions to ponder when evaluating music: They concern the lyrics, the spirit or attitude of the music, and the context in which the music is being listened to or performed.
1. If the music is vocal, what are the lyrics saying?
Remember, songs (musical pieces with lyrics) are often used to help us retain educational concepts or to recall an advertising slogan. This is problematic when the song keeps repeating lyrics that violate God’s Ten Commandments. The brain will encode and store those messages more quickly and effectively!
2. Pertaining to the music itself, here is by far the most important question: What is the spirit and attitude of the music?
Studies have shown that music has measurable physical effects on the body, mind, circulatory and immune systems as well as, of course, the ears themselves.
Certain judgments about the appropriateness of music would have to do with the physical laws God has set in motion for our bodies. You could equate a poor choice of music to a highly acidic diet that will weaken your immune system.
Obviously, we should obey physical laws as best we can. But we must look deeper than that—at the spiritual component of music.
Even setting aside the lyrics, in much of today’s music you hear singers who are bitter and angry—and their music often casts the same emotional fervor onto its listener.
Would certain rap hits, even with “good” lyrics, still be considered good under this criterion? Lyrics aside, if the artist is shouting or yelling in an angry tone, is the art from God or from the being who wants to do violence to us? Is it still associated with provocative dancing and skin-tight halter-tops?
Philippians 4:8 tells us to think on, “whatsoever things are true … honest … just … pure … lovely … of good report ….” God commands that “if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Does the music we listen to reflect this admonition?
This isn’t saying our music selections always have to be happy. Psalm 49:4 reads, “I will open my dark saying upon the harp.” Some music is sad, but it won’t necessarily depress you. David’s music was educational and helpful.
This leads to the third question or guideline.
3. What is the context?
As with many things pertaining to the physical senses, context is important. This applies in the area of diet—even foods God created aren’t good past a certain quantity. With dress standards, the amount of skin appropriate to show around the swimming pool is obviously different than the amount we should reveal in any other social situation.
Certain musical selections are appropriate for dances but not for Church services. When we exercise or are doing intense labor, we may want to play more “energetic” music with a stronger, repetitious beat. This isn’t the same kind of music that would be played at a formal dinner, for instance.
Also related to this is the volume of the music. The context determines the volume appropriateness. Music can be louder at Church dances than at a fine evening meal (but still not so loud that it prohibits decent fellowship).
Consider your own emotional context. Some days we are more susceptible to negative thoughts than on other days. On those days, we should watch our emotional diet. It is just like in the area of physical diet, some won’t drink red wine if they have a headache. This doesn’t mean red wine is harmful; it is just harmful to them in that context.
Look also at the social context. The song “Rock Around the Clock” doesn’t make most of us want to revolt against our parents in this era—there is nothing in the spirit and attitude that relays that to most of us. Rather, today, we might just consider it peppy and cheerful. But it once carried those fruits and attitudes, and, at that time, it would have been wrong to entertain that type of selection.
Training the Senses
Each individual may come up with some slightly different judgments. Winston Churchill said that you couldn’t apply the same formula to every battle in a war! Don’t be in the business of judging others in this area; rather, judge the music that you listen to!
All of us must be developing our senses, and letting God’s Spirit combine with our spirit to develop in this way. Here are two specific tools we can use in training our senses.
First, strive to cultivate a more refined taste in quality music. Granted, this takes time and effort. But here are two ideas to steer the less-trained ear in a more refined direction:
A) Listen actively to the classical radio station more often. Be discerning. Do not let the airwaves dictate what goes into your mind. When you notice things you like, ask why you like them. When you don’t like something, reserve your judgment for a while and determine, Do I dislike this because it’s inappropriate, or because it’s simply foreign to my tastes at this point?
B) Buy film soundtracks that emphasize the symphony orchestra. This music is usually more accessible to the untrained ear than certain classical pieces. This genre of music helps to condition the ear to a more symphonic sound and therefore make the transition to “classical” music much smoother.
Second, use technology to your advantage. Yes, technology can be a curse: Teens can have more music and listen to it all by themselves, without anyone knowing, tuning out reality more and more. But you can also use this technology to your advantage. Use the Internet to search the lyrics of different songs. You can download a single song you like without buying the whole album if you’re unsure about the rest of the album. You can hear a 30-second sample of almost anything recorded these days to get a taste of the song.
Music is one of Satan’s main talents and tools and is one of the sins sending the Western world into tribulation! But music is also a force for great good if used properly. Let’s use good music to invite God’s presence into our lives. Let’s use good music to have His Holy Spirit flow more mightily so that we can keep Satan’s destructive influence out—conquering him once and for all!