Written by Ruth Lidya Panggabean, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia
It is the first lesson we learn as Christians: we live in a fallen world that is full of sin. It is therefore no surprise that popular culture is full of books, music, and movies that contradict the Bible’s standards.
When it comes to music, does this mean we can only listen to Christian songs? Does listening to secular music make us sinful?
As with all things, we must look to the Bible for answers. Before we watch, listen to, or read anything, let us consider three verses.
1. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
I have recently begun assessing the music I listen to. Before listening to a song, I read all the lyrics first. Then I ask myself: “Do I agree with the message behind this song? Is it okay if I use these lyrics in my daily conversation?”
Previously, I did not even bother checking the lyrics of the songs I listened to. As long as I liked the melody and especially if it was popular, I would sing it without question. I would also upload my covers of these songs onto social media.
But that all changed when I participated in a lyric-making camp a year ago. I learned that every songwriter has a story behind their work, and that they are trying to deliver certain messages through the lyrics. Music affects a human being’s heart, soul, and mind far deeper than we can imagine; it doesn’t just affect our mood but can even affect our perspective. As a listener, we need spiritual sensitivity to decide whether the messages and stories in a song are in harmony with the Bible or not.
When I was heartbroken, there were some songs that I listened to on repeat, because the lyrics of and stories behind those songs were similar to my experiences. However, rather than being encouraged by them, I fell deeper into sadness. Later, I found out that this piece of wisdom had been written in Proverbs 25:20, “Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.” There was nothing wrong with the songs that I sang, but in the midst of my brokenness, I fixated on the poetic lyrics and the sad melody of the song. As a result, not only did it fail to make me happier, these songs dragged me even deeper into sadness.
Often, we only pay attention to the beautiful melody and poetic sentences, instead of scrutinizing the main message of the song. But we ought to thoroughly evaluate the concepts contained within a piece of music. By using this principle, we can also find secular songs that contain messages and stories that do not contradict the Bible. Such songs usually give us inspiration and highlight positive values.
So ask yourself: does the song I’m listening to remind me of God’s kindness in my life?
2. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
It is true that the Bible does not prohibit us from listening to any kind of music, but we also need to be wise in selecting the songs we listen to. Christianity is not about a list of what you can and cannot do, but it is about the relationship between God and man. Every choice we make in our daily lives, including what kind of music we choose to listen to, will reflect the quality of our relationship with God.
There is an analogy that goes like this: There are two wolves living close to each other. The first wolf symbolizes darkness and sin. The second wolf symbolizes faith and love. If these two wolves fight against each other, which wolf do you think will win?
The answer: the wolf that has been fed the most.
After all, the choice is up to us. Which part of our lives do we want to build up?
When I was heartbroken, neither the songwriter, the singer, nor music industry was at fault. Back then, I should have turned to God and His endless love. But I turned to sad songs instead.
Today, I don’t have much time to listen to music. So I have decided to select songs that remind me of God amid my busyness. I have some Christian and secular songs on my phone that I can play anytime. My favorites are songs by a group called Symphony Worship. “I Sing Hallelujah” is one of their songs that has given me strength during the many times I was drowning in my own worries. As for the secular songs, I often listen to Monita Tahalea. One of her songs, titled “Not Alone”, has never failed to encourage me, because that song always reminds me of my best friends.
3. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
I believe that Christians need to be up-to-date with the latest trends and issues so that we can be relevant to our environment—but this doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything that this world tells us.
Don’t be afraid of being considered uncool when you refuse to agree with things that contradict God’s will, and this includes song lyrics. In fact, being clear of our stand when it comes to music provides an opportunity for us to share our faith with others; music can be a means for outreach, on top of being a means to inspire and encourage ourselves.
Music is my passion. I sing secular songs at certain events, upload videos of songs that I covered to social media, and even watch a concert every once in a while in order to get some inspiration. But I am careful to select songs that do not contradict with my Christian values.
To my fellow Christians who love music, I know how hard it is for you to keep holding onto Christian values in this day and age. But this is actually your chance to share Christ’s values with other people. It could be writing Christian songs, living holy lives in the entertainment industry or simply, choosing not to listen to and endorse songs where the lyrics may be questionable.
Do not seek acceptance and love from people around you, but seek God’s praise and acceptance as we make full use of the grace He has given to us. For from Him and through Him and for Him are all our talents. By reminding ourselves of this, we can produce responsible work.