Is it okay for Christians to listen to secular music?
The Bible tells us to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). It tells us to "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:2). It instructs us to "… take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). If certain music meets these standards, it should be good to listen to.
We know that what we let into our mind will have an influence on how we think, talk, and act. The best kind of music for a Christian to listen to is music that points to God—that praises Him or points others to Him. There are talented musicians in every genre of music who endeavor to do so.
Some music is composed and performed to glorify ungodly things. Some music is clearly evil and is intended to mock or flout God. This music should be avoided.
But what about music that falls in between honoring God and disrespecting Him? We can evaluate that in-between-type music using these three factors: the purpose of the music, the style of the music, and the content of the lyrics.
First, try to determine the purpose for which the music was written and is performed. David, the most prolific musician in the Bible (he wrote most of the Psalms) used his talents to address God, mostly in worship (Psalms 4:1; 6:1; 54; 61:1, 67:1, 76:1). Other purposes of music in the Bible include to soothe the tormented (1 Samuel 16:14–23), to warn of danger (Nehemiah 4:20), and to surprise enemies (Judges 7:16–22). Paul tells us to address "one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:19–20). What is the purpose of the music you are listening to and does it line up well with God's purposes for you?
Second, take a look at the style of music. Some Christians place significant emphasis on what instruments are used and how they are played. The Bible does not pick and choose what styles of music are good and which are bad. It mentions several string and wind instruments, and percussion (Psalm 68:25; Ezra 3:10). The Bible gives us no guidance on what instruments are acceptable and which are prohibited. It seems to us the style of music has little to do with making a decision on whether a Christian should listen to it. One caveat we would make: if the style of music makes it impossible to determine its purpose and lyrics, it likely should be discouraged.
Thirdly, and most important, take a look at the lyrics of the music. Apply the Scriptures listed above. Some secular music can fit most of what is listed in Philippians 4:8. Conversely, other secular music delivers inappropriate messages about violence, sexual immorality, and lack of morals. Learn to know the difference and choose music that upholds those things God desires in us.
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