“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away…”
Music is a subject which has intense feelings and passions connected to it for many of us. Sometimes, it brings us to tears, other times it helps us to feel and experience the scene that the words are painting, and other times, it brings about adrenaline and ignites a fervor within us to conquer the world or fight against a perceived evil. Music is a great power within our lives, and it is a gift from our Father.
Even though it is a gift, its genre and lyrics have been the focus of many heated discussions within our body and the cause of many frustrations and conflicts between brothers and sisters. Some feel that the music with which we currently worship should be more exciting, more lively, because we are told that our walk in the Truth is joyful. The Psalms even mention praising God with the dance. Therefore, our hymns are leaving people behind who seek to worship God with their music and their heart, because the music is dull and the words are too hard to understand. Others stand on the other side of the discussion. They enjoy our hymns and enjoy things being more traditional. They feel that the hymns express truths that cannot be found in many of the newer and faster songs, even feeling that the newer songs tend to be “fluffy” and lacking good spiritual “meat.” They feel that when we start singing more exciting and more new age songs, then our praise will no longer have the depth of meaning that the hymns have.
Maybe you find yourself thinking as the first group, feeling that the music and power behind it is so important, we need to improve our singing. You might think that our hymns are completely boring. Or, you might feel afraid about what will happen to the knowledge or commitment to Bible study in our community if we begin singing newer songs. You might find the newer music to be empty. Or, overall, you may just feel a bit apathetic to the discussion anyway. You enjoy both the hymns and the new songs, or the other side, you don’t enjoy either.
If you feel strongly about either side, I want you to know that I have also felt that way. In the last few years, I have been on both sides of this. I have played guitar now for eight years, and for about six of those, I have been leading our CYC in singing and also leading the CYC singing at various Bible Schools and gatherings throughout the Americas. When I was 15, some of my friends and I got together and formed a Christadelphian band called “Grace Amplified.” For quite a while, music and its relationship to our worship has been very important to me. In the following, I hope to be able to share with you what I have learned.
For a long time, I had found myself in the first group. I remember times when I had been playing at a gathering with songs out of “Praise the Lord” or new Christian songs, and loving how connected I felt with God at the time. To my frustration, I also had an experience in which someone complained after my playing at a gathering, saying that the songs that I used were not appropriate. That was very hard for me to deal with at the time. Music was a very big part of my life; my time and thoughts were taken up with the band and I also passionately felt that Christian music and the PTL book were essential to livening the Christadelphian faith and helping our young people stay in the Truth. So many people could not feel the sheer joy and excitement for God that the Bible expresses, feeling that Christadelphians are stodgy and rule-bound. By bringing in new music, we could help those people see that faith in Christ is filled with rejoicing and gladness, and we would reduce the risk of them leaving the Truth. So if you feel that way, I want you to know that I can empathize with you.
Later on, after feeling that way for quite a while, my feelings started to shift, and after thinking about things for some time, I went in the complete opposite direction. I began to think that we should not be singing any of these new types of music and that there was no depth at all to the songs. I even began to feel that rather than being a help to our community, they are actually a hinderance- taking us away from the true faith of the Bible and causing us to feel affiliated with the false faith of Christendom today. I was worried that our young people would then go astray because of the “good” music that they heard in Christianity and would no longer appreciate the richness of the words in our hymn books. For those of you who tend to feel this way, I also want you to know that I can empathize with you and can understand your fears.
What I came to experience next is the lesson of balance. These two different ways of thinking may be what we feel or may be what we have been taught, but what we must do is contemplate the words of Scripture. Scripture is Truth (John 17:17) and shows us the perfect balance that God wants us to have in our musical worship. In these next few pages, we will no longer be looking at experiences that we have had, or opinions that we cherish, but rather at the words spoken by God. We will see how He desires for us to use music and see the glorious way in which it can be used when we follow the patten that we are given in the Bible. Coming to an understanding of what He desires is a process, and so please do not stop reading half way through, or only read a certain section. Please start at the beginning and read the entire article.
In this study, we will see that God wants us to worship Him in a particular way, in spirit and in truth. We will then go deeper into those concepts, exploring what each of them actually mean. In the end, we will see how worship in spirit and truth actually applies to how we live our lives and how we bring honor to God through our music. May the LORD lead us all in this study.
Throughout the ages, God has had various ways in which He desired to be worshipped. For Adam and Eve, part of their worship was not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For Cain and Abel, God had specific sacrifices that He wanted them to bring. For the Jews under the Law, He had a series of laws that He wanted them to obey. As the years have passed, God has shown to His people the different ways in which He desires to be worshipped. Those who truly sought to know it have understood, but those who felt that God would accept them- no matter what way they came or no matter what way they worshipped- soon found out that they were wrong. In the case of Adam and Eve, their disobedience resulted in a swift punishment.
When we come to the decision that we want to understand God’s method for US coming to Him, we want to follow His commands, partly because of punishment for not doing so, but more so because we love our Father and want to do the things that He asks.
As we look at this principle, that God desires a certain form of worship, it brings us to the conclusion that we need to find out what that certain form of worship is, and then do it with all of our being. The words of Christ in John 4 tell us about that form of worship.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
This is taken from Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her that the hour was coming, and even was AT THAT EXACT MOMENT when those who were true and faithful worshippers would worship God in SPIRIT and in TRUTH. They MUST worship Him in spirit and in truth. Jesus gives us the qualities for which God is searching. It is then our job to understand what they mean and apply them to our music and to our entire lives.
Worshipping in Spirit
As we now look at worship in Spirit and in Truth, let us begin with worshipping with our spirit. At times, this same Greek word, pneuma, is used to refer to a place in your innermost being. This is where someone would FEEL emotions, feel hurt, pain, and excitement!
And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.
When looking at some of the references, and when reading through them, you can see how the word is describing the place, deep down inside of your stomach, where you can really FEEL emotions, that place that prompts you to sigh, or that really energizes you to shout out. The lack of faith of the Jewish nation brought our Lord to sigh deeply in his spirit. He felt a powerful, living sadness.
The example is the same with the apostles. We all know the quote:
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
With all of their hearts the apostles yearned to stay awake for their Lord, for the One whom they loved. But as they tried to wait there for him, slowly their eyes would drop, and they would drift to sleep. Their spirit was willing. Their spirit was ready (Mark 14:38), their zeal and their fervor was not lacking, yet their physical body was too weak.
As a final example, we see the Apostle Paul walking among the idols at Athens, gazing upon each one, and feeling the sorrow in his heart for each person who had been led so astray by them.
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
He could feel pain for these people. He could feel the fire building inside of him, that passion for the TRUTH of God. So many in that city were walking down a path to nowhere. As a result of these emotions, as a result of his spirit being stirred, he began to preach in Athens.
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
This feeling that Paul had within him was something so powerful, something so uncontainable, that he had to go out and share the hope of the gospel with these people. It compelled him to go out and act. Paul’s feelings were real, they were alive, they were fervent. And they proceeded from his spirit.
This is the connection to worshipping in the spirit. The spirit is strongly connected with our emotions, with our enthusiasm, with our sadness, with our joy. Worshipping God in the spirit is connected to worshipping God with emotion. Worship in the spirit is not worship that is dull, or that is characterized by monotony; worship in the spirit is worship that is powerful, worship that ignites a fire within us, a fire so strong and so bright, that we can no longer hold it in (Jeremiah 20:9; Acts 4:20).
We may falter as we look at this conclusion, because Scripture often speaks against our passions and desires. Our brother Paul speaks about lusts and desires leading the people of this world to uncleanness (Romans 1:24). Later in the same epistle, Paul speaks about the conflicting desires within his body, the one to serve the law of God and the other desiring to serve the law of sin (Romans 7:23-25). James tells us that it is our lusts and passions that take part in the development of sin (James 1:14-15). It is true that our feelings and fervor can often be misleading. But at the same time, when they emerge from a heart that is seeking to be in line with God’s heart, they are an important part of our worship. This is why our emotion needs to be tempered with sincerity; with what is right. It is a zeal that clashes with the passions of our flesh, with our sinfulness. It is an emotion that comes from a heart that longs to do God’s will, which loves the One who made it, and will follow Him anywhere He bids. Jesus gives us an example of this type of desire.
And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.
In this quote, Jesus passionately desired to share His passover with His disciples. He loved them until the end (John 13:1) and wanted to give them the tokens of the new covenant. The word “desire” is from the same Greek word, “lusts” used in Romans 1:24 and James 1:14. Our emotions are evil, our desires are geared toward the flesh, and yet when changed by the influence of Christ, they can be made good and beautiful in our worship of the Father. This is worship in spirit. Worship in spirit is coming to God with a living heart that beats for Him alone. It is approaching Him with joy and sometimes sadness. It is destroying our fleshly desires and replacing them with the desires of God. It is sincerely following the will of God. From looking at these different passages, we can compose a definition of worship in spirit.
Worship in spirit:
Definition- worshipping with true and honest emotion, not that which comes from the flesh, but what proceeds from a Godly mind
When we bring this understanding of “spirit” to the words that Jesus spoke, we see that part of the way that the LORD wants us to worship Him is with all of our spiritual feeling, all of our Godly passion, all of our renewed heart. He doesn’t want us to just sit in our chairs and read through His word in a dull, monotone voice. He doesn’t want us to sing as though we’ve sung the words hundreds of times before (even if we have!). He wants us to “sing a new song,” to look at the words afresh and to come before Him with bright, joyful eyes, or with heavy hearts when the occasion is such. He wants us to rejoice in HIM and HIS goodness, with hearts and minds that love Him.
King David gives a wonderful example of this. Many of us are familiar with the story about him dancing before the ark of God. Let us take a look at it.
2 Samuel 6:15-16
So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
The ark had been brought to Jerusalem. Finally, after always moving from one place to another, it was in a place where it could stay. It could be in this city. God’s presence could dwell with the people. David’s heart was ablaze for God; he left behind any feeling that might have held him back, and allowed his joy and love for God to burst out into dance! His passion shows us how we should worship our Father when we seek to praise him in spirit. No doubt David’s voice was one of the loudest as all the people were shouting.
When applying this to our music, we are to come before God with Godly emotion. We need to take the monotonous, daily thoughts out of our mind and show forth our sincerity with our song. Let us praise Him! Let us show forth His righteousness!
Worshipping in Truth
As we then leave worship in spirit, we come to worship in truth. Worshipping in truth means praising God with a heart that knows His truth, His gospel. To further define this, let us look at the context of Christ’s words “spirit and in truth.”
And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?
Jesus equated his teaching with truth. He had come to preach the truth to people, yet they would not hear it. His teaching was honest and right in what it taught about God and His plan. The most helpful verse for our understanding of the word “truth” is in John 17.
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
The truth can sanctify and set apart for God those who know it and follow it. And God’s word is truth. Every part of it is accurate and beautiful. There are no contradictions, no errors. Our faith must be the same way. God desires for us to know Him and understand His gospel. He desires for us to follow Him in truth, without errors in our faith, in our beliefs about Him and His plan. This is what it means to worship in truth.
Worship in truth:
Definition- worshipping God with an accurate understanding of His Scripture, His teaching.
By worshipping in truth we are worshipping with a strong foundation, worshipping without errors in what is said, worshipping accurately according to the Word of God. This is fairly straightforward and basically means that all of our worship must be free of false teaching. Our songs cannot speak of the Trinity or substitutionary atonement, but should rather speak of the Kingdom here on earth, of the return of the Jews to Israel, of the promises given to Abraham. These are the things that God has revealed to us as His gospel, and they are precious. Let us treasure them and use them in our worship.
Paul explains the idea of “worship in truth” in another way.
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.
Our brother says that our music should be such that we can teach each other with it! We can admonish with it! We should be able to hand one of our brethren a song or hymn to help them understand a spiritual concept! The truth of the gospel is an essential and wonderful part of our music. It is the power behind the music that we sing; and when we begin to make these teachings of the truth and spiritual concepts REAL in our minds, then the worship in spirit will follow.
Spirit AND Truth- A Synthesis
This is the idea of worshipping in spirit and in truth. However, this worshipping in spirit and truth can be easily misunderstood. Some may feel that worshipping in spirit means that we are rejoicing or very sincere while we sing, and then worshipping in truth means that we understand the gospel. It is true that on their own, worshipping in spirit refers to worshipping with true zeal and fervor and worshipping in truth refers to understanding the gospel. Christ, though, called us to something different. He called us to worship in spirit ANDin truth. This type of worship is a beautiful blend between the joy of worshipping in spirit and the knowledge behind worshipping in truth. This blend, or balance, is created by an UNDERSTANDING of the gospel and by feeling the emotion connected to what the gospel teaches. It is making the truth a reality, so that in your mind the things of scripture are more real than the things around you: the coming of Christ and restoration of Jerusalem is more sure than anything else that may happen to you. When the truth becomes a reality, then the rejoicing and emotion will stem from that, from the understanding of God’s goodness and mercy, from the realization that His plan is sure.
Worship in spirit and truth:
Definition- making the things of the truth a reality, so that the passion is Godly and is derived from an understanding of the Scripture
Our worship in spirit and truth, our fervent, zealous, passionate worship is based on an understanding of the Truth! Psalm 47 shows us a beautiful way in which to apply BOTH of these concepts to our music. It shows us worship with spirit AND truth.
O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.
This psalm was written by the Sons of Korah. Here, they are telling us to clap our hands and SHOUT to God with the voice of triumph! They are telling us to worship God in spirit, to lift up our voices with strength and feeling! And then they give us a reason why we should do this. “For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.” We are to shout with a sound of victory because God is King, we are to clap our hands because God is powerful!
Let us think about what we just read for another moment. The Sons of Korah tell us then HOW our worship in the spirit should take place. They don’t tell us to shout up to God because our favorite sports team beat its rival. They don’t tell us to shout up to God because we are emotionally charged and just feel like shouting. They don’t tell us to shout up to God because we have been excited by the music they are playing. Rather, we are to shout to God because we know of His power, because He rules over all things! This is a psalm about the Kingdom, when all opposition to our Lord will be demolished and the entire earth will worship Him. He will be King, and when we think about those things, we are to rejoice!
The psalm brings this point out even further as we go on.
Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.
Again, we are told to “sing praises” four times in verse 6. The repetition here shows how important it is for us to sing these praises! But the explanation follows: for God is the King of all the earth. This psalm is showing us that we want to get a vision within our minds of when God is King over the entire earth; when we have that vision, then praises will not cease to come from our mouths! This principle is the key to worshipping in spirit and truth. Worship in the spirit and truth is an intense, emotional worship, but not emotion that is based on just any random thing in life. The emotions cannot come from work, the emotions cannot come from any hobby that we may have! This psalm teaches us that the emotion-the joyful praises that we sing-needs to come from an UNDERSTANDING of scripture, an understanding of God’s plan, an understanding of who God is!
Our music must shine forth with a comprehension of those things which we believe. The return of Jesus, the forgiveness and restoration of Israel, the forgiveness of our own sins, these things are all of our hope in this world! These concepts embody what we are fighting for each day! Our music, then, should reflect our belief in these things. Psalm 37 is a psalm or song that shows worship in spirit and truth. Here, David shows us a number of the first principles, an understanding of the truth. At the same time, David uses words and speaks of concepts that are interwoven with the emotions. Over and over he will use powerful images and emphatic words. He will speak of trusting God, a concept that is linked with the emotion of giving up control in your life and BELIEVING that God knows what is going to happen. He also uses words of distress, words that show fear, another intense feeling. The following table shows the passion and fervor with which David speaks and also shows the concepts which he teaches:
|1. Emphatic language –
v. 2, 4, 6, 10-15, 17, 20, 23-24, 35-36
|1. Kingdom of God on Earth –
v. 11, 22, 29
|2. Full trust in God –
v. 3-7, 9, 24-25, 31, 34, 39-40
|2. Righteousness through faith –
v. 5-6, 9, 39-40
|3. Words of distress –
v. 1, 7, 8
|3. The dead are dead –
v. 9-10, 35-36, 38
David brings worship in spirit and worship in truth to light in this psalm. He speaks very emotionally, addressing issues of believers feeling distress, and encouraging them to put their full trust and confidence in God. He also speaks of a few of the first principles. He shows His understanding of the Kingdom being on earth, and of God’s righteousness as a gift to us through faith, not an earned wage.
The beauty of all this, though, comes when we see that his strong language and feelings are based on the truth that He brings out. This emotion is not based on the music that was playing with the psalm. This emotion was not based off of the people that were around him, but instead, David’s emphatic language was based on his understanding and his vision of the Kingdom. He could see the Kingdom, he could touch the Kingdom, and so he could encourage people to stop worrying, to fret not, and to fully trust in God because he knew that there was hope after this life! He knew that the wicked would only live for a short time, and then turn back to the dust!
Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
The king’s worship in spirit here is based on his understanding! Just as we saw in Psalm 47, the Sons of Korah could say “shout to God with the voice of triumph” because they understood that God someday would rule over the entire earth, and that all creation would praise Him. They could see that day in their minds, feel it and experience it, and get excited based off of that vision! They would not be joyful because of anything else except their understanding, and the process of making it REAL in their minds! It was the same with David. He knew that the wicked would be cut off. He knew that the meek shall inherit the earth. And so, he could sing this psalm, zealously encouraging others to drop their cares in this world, and trust fully and completely in God, and make Him their delight.
To observe one final case, let us bring our thoughts back to the scene of David leaping and dancing before the ark. Previously, we have seen this as an instance of worshipping with vigor and enthusiasm, as it most definitely is. But again, as we examine the picture a bit closer, we see that not only was his worship full of fire, but that fire and emotion came because he loved the truth and loved His Father! 1 Chronicles 16 is an account that begins just as the ark is brought to Jerusalem, and in it, David expresses his feelings at that time in a psalm (verses 7-36). Throughout the psalm he makes various references to “deep” concepts. He brings up the promises to Abraham (verses 15-19) the idea of one God (verses 25-26) and God’s everlasting mercy (verse 34). Because of his record, we now know where David’s mind was as he was bringing the ark back, as he was leaping and jumping, as he was singing. He wasn’t working himself up for the sake of feeling good, but instead he was excited about the character of his God, and he was joyful that God had made promises to Abraham.
In John 6, we see an example of the Jewish people following after their fleshly emotions.
Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
Jesus had just feed over 5000 people, with only two fish and five loaves of bread! A mind-blowing miracle had just taken place! To an oppressed people, tired of having foreign nations rule over them, their ultimate desire was to be delivered from their Roman captors. This man, the one with the power to create infinite supplies of food, could lead them to their freedom. The people were filled with zeal, with emotion, so much that they wanted to storm Christ and force him to be their King! Their fleshly desire to be delivered superseded their spiritual desire for eternal life.
Worship in spirit and truth has a huge impact on the music that we sing, both in worship as an ecclesia and all throughout each day of our lives. Psalm 34 helps us to understand the scope of proper worship.
I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
His praise shall CONTINUALLYbe in my mouth. We are to ALWAYS be praising, always worshipping God. We have seen that God wants us to worship in spirit and truth, and we want to worship in that way because we love Him. Now we see that we must be doing this at ALL TIMES! When we are walking through a hall at school, when we sit down in our favorite chair after we get home, when we are driving our car to work; the music that we listen to and that we sing should be music that brings praise to God, music that worships Him in spirit and in truth. It may be a struggle for us, but thankfully this is something that God wants us to do. He will help us. He will give strength. He will work with us to change our thoughts and music. The following psalm echoes the same thought.
And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.
All of the day, no matter where we are, let us have the praise of our God, the love of His truth, within our hearts.
In effect, this reaches much further than the study intended. These verses mean that we need to watch the words of all our favorite songs and hymns a little more closely- not just the songs that we sing at memorial service, but also what we listen to personally. It means that even though we might really feel energized by the tune of a certain song, if it does not express any type of spiritual concept or make us think of anything scriptural, then it is not profitable for us to sing. We are to praise God at ALL TIMES, and we cannot truly worship in spirit and truth without understanding. If we try to be passionate, without there being a strong, Biblical foundation (in our minds and our music), we are just getting ourselves excited over nothing. Essentially, this principle causes us to look at any music that does not have anything to do with the Bible, or anything to do with God, and question whether or not it is something that we want to continue to sing or listen to. Instead of finding excitement in music that falls into this category, let us think about the goodness of God and His great power. Let us think about His plan of bringing peace to the torn city of Jerusalem. Let us think about Him resurrecting Abraham and giving him the Promised Land. These are things that are real and powerful. These are things that can cause us to “rejoice in the Lord” because we are excited about the Kingdom coming!
We are to joy in the understanding that we have of the Truth! This point affects both our hymns and the newer “Praise the Lord” type songs. Our hymns from the hymn book can often be tricky to understand. Thus, it is important for someone who knows what it means for “the heart of the obdurate nation [to] bend” to explain to those who don’t know. It is important for those who can see the different concepts and ideas woven throughout our hymns to explain them, so that others can enjoy the beauty of our lyrics. With the PTL (Praise the Lord) book, sometimes the music can be much more upbeat and exciting, and we can find ourselves singing the words and being energetic, without realizing what it is that we are singing. In both cases, with the hymn book or the PTL, we need to step back and take some time to think about what we are singing. If you are singing from the hymn book, try to read through the words slowly and think about them; if they are hard to understand, ask another brother or sister what they might mean. If you are singing from the PTL, strive to earnestly focus on the words and the concepts that are being shown in the song.
As a conclusion, music is an amazingly powerful gift which God has given to us. Throughout all of time, He has had a particular way in which He calls us to worship, and we want to follow that way because of our love for Him (John 14:15). This way of worship is worship in spirit and truth. Spirit relates to the sincerity and fervor that we have, while truth pertains to our understanding of spiritual concepts and God’s word. When these two things come together, we have worship in spirit and truth, meaning that the worship is powerful and full of emotion, with that emotion having its roots in our understanding of God, His power, His plan, and making those concepts REAL in our lives. Worship in spirit and truth has a profound affect on our musical praise.
This true worship has such far-reaching affects because we are to be praising at all times, meaning that this principle relates even to music to which we personally listen. It means that all our music should be fused with the Truth, with concepts from the Word, and beautiful themes of God. It means the same thing for music that we sing together as an ecclesia. Our music must show forth God’s truth, his deep and spiritual concepts, and from our understanding of these things, from us making them real in our lives, we will feel the power of them, feel their fire. When we can get to the point where that fire truly comes from feeling the reality of God’s words and concepts, rather than any other source, then we truly will be praising Him, and will be showing our love for our God and Father, by worshipping Him in spirit and truth.