Instruments & Worship

Beginning in Ephesians 5, we’re going to look at our song service and the use of instrumental music in our worship to God. In Ephesians 5:19, Paul instructs the congregation to speak to one another, singing and making melody in the heart. Also, in Colossians 3:16, our song service is described as a time when teaching and admonishing is taking place.

Parallels With Psalms

While these verses are similar, Paul uses deliberate wording that is similar to the Psalms when songs of praise are described therein. Psalm 33:2, for example, states to sing praises unto Him with a harp. Psalm 144:9, Psalm 98:5, and Psalm 146:7 are additional passages using similar wording. In all of these, there is a function, a means, and an object.

Back in Ephesians 5:19, there is a function: singing; and object: the Lord; and a means: with the heart. This is also true of Colossians 3:16, and these passages illustrate a difference between the Old and New Testaments.

Spiritual Versus Physical

Hebrews 9:9-11 and Hebrews 8:5 emphasize the reliance of the Old Testament on things made by hands. It was a shadow of things to come, and this can be seen in those Psalms’ reliance on man-made instruments. Passages like Colossians 2:14, Hebrews 10:9, and Galatians 3:24-25 help us understand that the Old Testament is no longer over us. Likewise, the ways and means of worship in the Old Testament have passed away.

In John 4:19-23, a Samaritan woman questions Jesus regarding worship, and Jesus de-emphasizes the physical and emphasizes the spiritual in His response. See also Hebrews 12:18-22, Hebrews 13:15, I Peter 2:5, and Romans 2:28-29. All these emphasize spiritual concepts over material concepts, and the Hebrews 13 reading describes what comes from our mouths as a form of sacrifice.


We should no more want to use instrumental music than we should want to sacrifice bulls and goats. As with sacrifice, instrumental worship is tied to the Old Testament. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 expressly command us to sing to God with our hearts – not with anything else. There are no examples, commands, or implications of using instruments to worship God anywhere in the New Testament.

Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus, did not respect worshipping God in the way He commanded, and He eliminated them as a result. Even early church influences (whether we agree with all there doctrines or not) such as John Calvin, John Wesley, and Martin Luther disapproved of instrumental music in worship. New Testament Christianity has a model to follow, and our worship is to be centered on what pleases God rather than what pleases us. Are we singing praises to God from the heart, or are we – with or without instruments – putting on a performance? If our focus is on God more than selves, then we can more easily lay aside personal preferences when it comes to worshipping Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser