In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul addresses edifying worship. The Corinthians, an extremely gifted congregation in the miraculous sense, lost their bearings in a tempest of languages and divine inspiration, thus making their public assembly a maelstrom of confusion. As he demonstrates the necessity for language interpreters whose translations would promote understanding among the brethren, Paul argues, “Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?” The instrumental analogy effectively supports the need for interpreters, and more space would permit a further exploration of Paul’s reasoning. However, notice Paul’s opening observation which predicates the analogy: instruments do not have life. While the observation is self evident, it expresses a spiritual perspective which, in part, explains why mechanical instruments are conspicuously absent in New Covenant worship. When Paul describes instruments as “things without life”, he is literally saying these things have no soul. “Apsucha” is the Greek word for “things without life” and is the negative of “psuche” which is generally translated “soul” or “life”. Scripture testifies that instruments are man’s creation: Jubal, a descendant of Cain, “was the father of all those who play the harp and flute.” (Gen. 4:21) Since they are the fruit of both man’s imagination and handiwork, instruments are lifeless. God’s breath alone produces a living soul, thus man lives but his works remain lifeless.
Now that Paul’s meaning is clearly defined, consider its impact. The cornerstone passage for Christian worship is John 4:21-24. In these verses, Jesus reveals a pivotal shift in man’s worship of God. The Father’s pursuit of spiritual and truthful worshipers prompted these upcoming changes. Such worshipers please God because these elements are a part of the divine nature, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” A spiritual God in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning seeks worshipers whose reverence and honor contain these two divine elements. Truthful worship represents the absence of darkness, a worship steeped in divine revelation, expressed with sincerity, executed in harmony with God’s design. Spiritual worship is a bit more nebulous. Generally, we conclude that spiritual worship represents an internal expression: the heart accompanying the lips, the mind dwelling on the word of Christ (Eph. 5:18-19, Col. 3:16). To this scriptural definition I would add one element: spiritual worship is living.
From the beginning God connects spirit with life. God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life (literally “spirit”) and man became a living soul. Job declared, “The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (33:4) The living word of God was recorded by men who were, “moved by the Holy Spirit”, thus it is “God-breathed” . (Heb. 4:12, 2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16). Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life,” which Paul reiterates when comparing the Old and New Covenants, “not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (John 6:63, 1 Cor. 3:6) Christians are born again of the Spirit working through the word of God (1 Pet. 1:22-23). Finally, because the Spirit dwells in Christians, we are alive, “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Rom. 8:10) Therefore, when Jesus announced, “God is spirit,” He not only revealed the nature of God and the realm in which He abides, He also alludes to God as the source and giver of life.
What then does it mean to “worship in spirit”? Spiritual worship is a living worship. Christians are living beings whose “inner men” are quickened by a living God. I present my body as an instrument of righteousness, laying it down as a, “living sacrifice” (Rom. 6:13, 12:1). We are a living sacrifice because of the life God resurrected within us: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) My words are accompanied by a heart in which the Spirit of God resides and a mind which dwells on the word of Christ wherein it finds renewal (Rom. 5:5, Col. 3:10). Thus, a Christian is a living being, worshiping a living God: “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit…”
Now some might respond, “You obviously don’t understand the effects of instrumental music and its potential to unlock a spiritual experience.” As a former band director with five years of teaching experience and a decades’ worth of performing at the collegiate and professional levels, I have experienced firsthand the feeling aroused by instrumental music. I have been in many secular performance situations where tears have welled up in my eyes, when waves of euphoria swept over me, and chills ran down my spine. In the artistic world, this phenomena is known as an aesthetic experience. It occurs when a powerful piece of art – whether it be music, poetry, visual art, etc. – captures the attention of an audience and arouses through their senses an emotional response. In a worship context, many attribute such sensations to the Holy Spirit “moving within their heart”. If that is true, why did I experience identical feelings in a secular context before I received the Spirit of Christ? When religious people describe their “spiritual experience” in worship, they are crediting the Holy Spirit with a sensation that all human beings – from the atheist to the religious – feel in powerful musical moments. Thus I am compelled to question this argument’s subjective foundation, reject any connection between instrumental music and spirituality, and turn the reader’s attention back to the essence of spiritual worship.
At the heart of spiritual worship is the life God has resurrected within each Christian. If scripture connects spirit and life together, and if Christian worship is spiritual, should mechanical instruments – which are clearly lifeless – be considered a legitimate part of spiritual worship? In light of the evidence, the answer is no. Worship is not expressed through a lifeless mechanism crafted by the imagination of man. Rather it is vocalized by an instrument devised and quickened by the hands of a living God.