ORDERING OUR RECREATION, EVEN IN SONG
Every song is written with some end or some ends in view. Some songs are for recreation, some songs are for worship of God, some songs are for help in memorizing school subjects, some songs are for help in remembering history and past events, some songs are for aids in memorizing work material, some songs are to communicate a message to someone else in a special way, etc. With respect to songs for the worship of God with the people of God, God has told us in His word which songs He would have us to sing: the Spirit-inspired songs of the Bible.
With respect to songs for purposes of fulfilling such divine mandates as the duty to labor for six days, the duty to communicate with other people, etc., we may well find it necessary and appropriate to employ uninspired songs. An example of this is the “ABC Song”, sung by children to learn the alphabet. Learning the alphabet of one’s language is certainly a godly goal, and so to employ uninspired song for that purpose is quite acceptable. Obviously, there is no divine song in scripture given for learning the English alphabet, for instance. And uninspired songs might help us in fulfilling other God-ordained duties.
With respect to songs for purposes of communicating a message to someone else, the same basic rules apply as apply to speech in general. Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4 offer sound counsel on this matter:
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” – Ephesians 4:29
“Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” - Ephesians 5:4
Matthew Henry comments on these verses: “The great use of speech is to edify those with whom we converse. Christians should endeavour to promote a useful conversation: that it may minister grace unto the hearers; that it may be good for, and acceptable to, the hearers, in the way of information, counsel, pertinent reproof, or the like. Observe, It is the great duty of Christians to take care that they offend not with their lips, and that they improve discourse and converse, as much as may be, for the good of others… The apostle not only cautions against the gross acts of sin, but against what some may be apt to make light of, and think to be excusable. Neither filthiness (v. 4), by which may be understood all wanton and unseemly gestures and behaviour; nor foolish talking, obscene and lewd discourse, or, more generally, such vain discourse as betrays much folly and indiscretion, and is far from edifying the hearers; nor jesting. The Greek word eutrapelia is the same which Aristotle, in his Ethics, makes a virtue: pleasantness of conversation. And there is no doubt an innocent and inoffensive jesting, which we cannot suppose the apostle here forbids. Some understand him of such scurrilous and abusive reflections as tend to expose others and to make them appear ridiculous. This is bad enough: but the context seems to restrain it to such pleasantry of discourse as is filthy and obscene, which he may also design by that corrupt, or putrid and rotten, communication that he speaks of, ch. 4:29. Of these things he says, They are not convenient. Indeed there is more than inconvenience, even a great deal of mischief, in them. They are so far from being profitable that they pollute and poison the hearers. But the meaning is, Those things do not become Christians, and are very unsuitable to their profession and character. Christians are allowed to be cheerful and pleasant; but they must be merry and wise. The apostle adds, But rather giving of thanks: so far let the Christian’s way of mirth be from that of obscene and profane wit, that he may delight his mind, and make himself cheerful, by a grateful remembrance of God’s goodness and mercy to him, and by blessing and praising him on account of these. Note, 1. We should take all occasions to render thanksgivings and praises to God for his kindness and favours to us. 2. A reflection on the grace and goodness of God to us, with a design to excite our thankfulness to him, is proper to refresh and delight the Christian’s mind, and to make him cheerful. Dr. Hammond thinks that eucharistia may signify gracious, pious, religious discourse in general, by way of opposition to what the apostle condemns. Our cheerfulness, instead of breaking out into what is vain and sinful, and a profanation of God’s name, should express itself as becomes Christians, and in what may tend to his glory. If men abounded more in good and pious expressions, they would not be so apt to utter ill and unbecoming words; for shall blessing and cursing, lewdness and thanksgivings, proceed out of the same mouth?”
Our speech in general, and even song, then should meet the standard of being unto edification.
So what songs are appropriate for the end of recreation?
To answer that question, we must first answer the more basic question: what is the divine rationale for human recreation? Simply stated, its God-ordained purpose is to re-create and re-vivify us, spiritually and physically. That re-creation should bring us more into conformity to Jesus Christ, so characterized by growth in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.
To the extent meditation upon song lyrics is a part of our re-creation, the songs inspired of God are sure and effectual to that end. Consider these words from among the very songs of Christ (Psalm 119):
“Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.“
“Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they [are] ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies [are] my meditation.”
“I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved…I will meditate in thy statutes.”
“Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; [and] quicken thou me in thy way.“
“I hate [vain] thoughts: but thy law do I love.”
“I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.”
“I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.”
Yet despite this wise and godly counsel, how few there are in our own day who know as many God-inspired songs by heart as they know songs authored merely by uninspired men, and often foolish men at that. There are not many today know who have memorized God's songs for praise, edification, and enjoyment. But there are multitudes who know the lyrics of vain, frivolous, or perverse songs.
The inspired songs of God should inhabit a central place among the songs we know, especially songs for our re-creation. It is a misallocation of time to learn vain song lyrics for recreation and entertainment. We must keep in mind our time limits on this earth. Our time is quite limited. And that brief time we have for recreation in song should be well used. Christians have been bought with a price. Our time is God's. I just wish I could trade all the “entertaining” secular songs I know (from my pre-reformed days) in for the spiritual songs God wrote. But, alas, the secular songs are deeply embedded in my psyche from youth, and God's songs I am trying only somewhat successfully to learn in my older age. My advice to the youth: remember the Creator's songs in the days of thy youth. (And don't waste time meditating in recreation upon the words of *at best* second-rate songs, and often downright perverse songs, written by foolish men.) We are told to redeem our time - all of our time.