musical preferences

©2018 michael martin |

1. i don’t like the music!

a. old-style music vs. contemporary music

Music is a wonderful tool which has a unique ability to evoke emotions and moods in the human heart. Because of the amazing power of music, people feel very strongly about what they like or dislike about music. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of worship music.

Older and younger generations disliking each other's music is a longstanding issue. Today’s ‘older’ generation was once the younger generation, and their music, which, they love today, was disliked by THEIR elders as much as they might currently dislike the modern music of today.

These personal preferences are perfectly understandable and acceptable. The problem comes when one generation attempts to imprint their preferences on another generation as though it is somehow wrong to enjoy a different style of music. But while people are passionate about their musical preferences, the only ‘rights and wrongs’ of music have to be defined by Scripture.

So, what does the Bible actually say? Should we stick with the old standard hymns, or should we embrace new music? The Bible is very clear.

Psalms 33:3

Sing to him a new song;

play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Psalms 40:1-3

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

I waited patiently for the Lord;

he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

he set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalms 96:1-3

Sing to the Lord a new song;

sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, praise his name;

proclaim his salvation day after day.

Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Psalms 98:1

Sing to the Lord a new song,

for he has done marvelous things;

his right hand and his holy arm

have worked salvation for him.

Psalms 144:9-10

I will sing a new song to you, O God;

on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you,

to the One who gives victory to kings,

who delivers his servant David from the deadly sword.

Clearly, the Bible does not tell us that old songs are better than new ones, or vice-versa. In fact, God’s Word encourages us to sing new songs to praise God. But where does that leave the old songs?

Clearly, we aren’t told to turn our backs on those either. The very existence of the book of Psalms shows us a rich collection of prayer and praises, many of which were actually set to music. These were preserved for us so that we could continue to be inspired and encouraged by them, even though they are old to us now.


b. stick with hymns?

To answer this question, let’s first look at what a hymn is. In the simplest sense, a hymn is defined this way:


1a: a song of praise to God

1b: a metrical composition adapted for singing in a religious service

2: a song of praise or joy

3: something resembling a song of praise

source: Merriam-Webster

Based upon these dictionary definitions, in the strictest sense and definition, any song that praises or expresses joy to God is a hymn.

We might tend to think primarily of older worship songs as hymns, but the truth is, all those old hymns were new at one time.

And so, to answer our question, yes, we should stick with hymns! But “hymns” includes any kind of song, old or new, of any style, that employs sound Biblical concepts and glorifies our Lord.

c. musical arguments

Nevertheless, our personal preferences in music play a strong role, and often too great a role, in our attitudes about worship.

Music offers an incredible variety of sounds and feelings, all varied by the kinds of instruments used, vocal performances, timings, tempos and rhythms, percussion, and even the notes and chords used. What one person enjoys may be disliked by another person.

We see music differences across cultures and throughout generations. Worship music in Africa sounds different than worship music in Asia or the U.S. Worship music from forty years ago sounds different than the worship music of today.

But is any of it “right” or “wrong?”

In the Bible, we see numerous psalms and songs and read descriptions of various musical instruments and percussion used.

The Bible is clear that we should use music to genuinely praise our Lord! But what we don’t see is a definition of what that music should sound like. Nowhere does the Bible tell us not to use certain instruments. Aside from ensuring sound Biblical truth, there is no Biblical rule for what tempo a worship song should have, how loud it should be, or what style it should be rendered in.

In other words, our personal preferences about worship music are only that. Personal preferences. To suggest that anyone else’s preferences are somehow wrong or not God-honoring simply because they don’t align with our tastes is wrong.

We should not presume to tell our brothers in Christ on other continents that their lovingly-offered worship music doesn’t honor God simply because we don’t like or understand it. Neither should we do so across different generations.

If God is being honored by a song’s message, and if people are inspired to offer praises to God as a result of that song, whether we like it or not, it is an acceptable sacrifice to God, for which we should praise Him!


d. genuine worship vs false worship

While the style and sound of our worship music is not regulated by the Bible, the Scriptures do speak about the heart from which a worship song is offered.

The intent of any worship song should be to focus attention on God and to praise Him in truth and love. But false worship is not pleasing to God.

Isaiah 29:13

The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

This verse, later quoted by Jesus, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be applied to a performer who sings a worship song more for his own glory than for God’s glory.

But on the other hand, this verse can also be applied to a person who is more concerned with following human rules and traditions in worship than in having a truly worshipful heart.

How often does our worship become a blemished sacrifice to God, all because our thoughts and hearts are focused on the wrong things?

malachi 1:6-10

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

7 “By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. 8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

9 “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.

10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

If the goal of singing to God is to please Him, then we need to be certain that we aren’t doing the opposite. Consider these questions as you evaluate your own attitudes about worship.

questions to ponder

Q. Do I withhold my praises to God because I don’t like the music?

Q. Do I judge the worship leader’s heart instead of offering my own praises to God?

Q. Do I sing for my own glory and pleasure, or to offer praises to God?

Q. Do I believe that my worship is pleasing to God, or a blemished sacrifice?


e. why should i have to put up with other people’s preferences?

This question can be answered in one word. Love. If we love one another, then we must consider the interests of others above our own.

philippians 2:3-8

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

This is a high calling, especially when is comes to something like music, which we are so passionate about.

In Romans chapter 14, Paul addresses an issue where people within the church were sharply divided. In that day, it was still common to sacrifice meat to idols, and afterward, this meat became available for sale, where it was sometimes used by Christian households. The controversy was about whether it was right or wrong for believers to eat meat that had previously been used in idol worship.

Paul made it very clear that idols are nothing, and that food sacrificed to idols was also nothing:

1 corinthians 10:18

Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything?

It should be noted that Paul preferred that people did not eat meat sacrificed to idols, but it was not a command from God. So in Romans chapter 14, Paul explained how we should handle issues where the Bible allows us to do things that some people aren’t comfortable with. Here, we will consider how the passage applies to worship music.

romans 14:1-4

The Weak and the Strong

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

I believe these same principles can be applied to worship music. Imagine this passage reading this way:

what if we apply romans 14:1-4 this way?

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to sing every worship song, but another man, whose faith is weak, sings only his preferred kind of music. The man who sings everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not sing everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The rest of Romans chapter 14 can be similarly applied to music. Let’s take a look. In the Scripture passages below, we have added references to worship music where the text originally referred to meat so that we may consider how this passage can be applied to our attitudes about worship music.

romans 14:4-6

5 One person considers one day (worship song) more sacred than another; another considers every day (worship song) alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day (worship song) as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat (sings a worship song) does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Let’s look at these past few verses. In Romans chapter 14, Paul addresses the different attitudes and personal convictions that people had about eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Some people considered it sinful to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, while others thought it was perfectly acceptable, since idols are not real in the first place. Paul’s point was that, although it was not Biblically sinful to eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol, it would have been sinful for someone who was convinced it was a sin to eat that meat.

This raises an interesting point. While the Bible doesn’t condemn any style of music, some people do have personal convictions about worship music. These convictions apply to their own worship, not to anyone else’s. Yet, if we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to consider what is best for them.

Let’s continue examining Romans chapter 14 as we consider this point.

romans 14:7-15

For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,

‘every knee will bow before me;

every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing (no worship song) is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something (a worship song) as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat (sing), you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating (singing) destroy someone for whom Christ died.

What we see in the above verses is that we do need to consider whether our actions will cause others to come closer to God or whether it will cause them to stumble, but not so much because any worship song is a sin.

Some people from the older generations might feel that the louder, up-tempo contemporary songs lack a sense of reverence and respect that they prefer. To some in the younger generations, the slower, older hymns might seem joyless and depressing.

The point is, while all genuinely-offered worship music is good, it wouldn’t be loving to expect a room full of senior citizens who prefer old songs to sing along with loud, contemporary music. Neither would it be loving to force a room full of teenagers to sing very old worship music. We need to love each other!

In a congregation where older and younger generations worship alongside of each other, an effort needs to be made by all to bless each other. Ideally, the older and more mature generation should show the maturity to serve the young by being willing to worship with their music. Similarly, the younger generations should be respectful enough to be willing to worship to older music.

Let’s continue to look at Romans chapter 14.

romans 14:16-23

Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food (worship songs are) clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything (force someone to sing a song) that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Here again, if someone truly believes that something about a particular praise song is somehow sinful, then they should not be forced to sing it. However, neither should such a person demand that no one else should sing such a song.

The heart of the matter is summed up in the beginning of Romans chapter 15.

Romans 15:1-2

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

The principle is that those who are Spiritually stronger and more mature should bear with the weak for their benefit. When it comes to things like music, that may mean worshiping to musical styles we don’t especially like, but doing it anyway for the edification of those who are weaker or less mature in Christ. The point is, in our worship we should love God and love others more than we love ourselves!


f. the issue with all of this is the heart!

Everything we have discussed so far is a tool. Musical instruments are tools. Musical timings, rhythms and tempos are tools. Volume is a tool. Style is a tool. And just like any tool, none of them are inherently good or evil. The issue, then, is how the tools are used, and with what motives. Is a musical instrument or tempo or style or volume being used to glorify the musicians, or the Lord?

If the volume is too high for your liking, or the tempo too fast or too slow, or the style is not your favorite, consider this: Might someone else actually be edified or encouraged to give praise to God by the very things you dislike? Might God actually be glorified by the person who is led to praise God by the very song that you don’t enjoy? And going further, shouldn’t you therefore praise God that the things you dislike are leading others to give Him praise? Even if you dislike a song, shouldn’t you praise God anyway?

God’s Word mandates musical praise to Him. And while it gives some examples of how those musical praises might have been carried out, there is no Biblical command or prohibition of any instrument, tempo, rhythm, volume or style used in offering musical praise to God. It simply isn’t there.

Music has many different styles and moods, across different cultures through the world and throughout the ages. Praise music in Uganda will sound different than praise music in Romania. It sounds different today than it did in the 1800’s or the 1970’s. And if it brings glory to God, all of it is good, even if it’s not your cup of tea.

So, if you like the music, praise God that you are enjoying the music with which you praise Him! And if you don’t like the music, praise God that others are praising God because they are moved by the music, and take pleasure in that!

So let’s follow the example of David and praise the Lord. Praise Him continuously. Praise Him lovingly. And praise Him with all of your might!

1 Chronicles 13:8

David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets.

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty heavens.

Praise him for his acts of power;

praise him for his surpassing greatness.

Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,

praise him with the harp and lyre,

praise him with tambourine and dancing,

praise him with the strings and flute,

praise him with the clash of cymbals,

praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.