Music is Great. Jesus is Greater. [Part 3]

In this episode Bob and David talk about 5 specific ways we can be deceived into thinking music is greater than Jesus. They close by looking at practical ways each of us can grow in our love for the Savior and the gospel.

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Bob Kauflin: Hey, you’re listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. Sovereign Grace Music exists to produce Christ exalting songs and training for local churches, from local churches. For more information and free resources you can check out Thanks for joining us.

David Zimmer: Hey, welcome back to Sound + Doctrine, I’m David Zimmer.

BK: I’m Bob Kauflin.

DZ: And it is good to be here, to be talking about this topic, Music is Great, Jesus is Greater. This is our third part…

BK: It is.

DZ: And that we’ve been talking about and a topic that cannot be exhausted even in a podcast. So Bob where did we leave off last week?

BK: Okay. Well, so far we’ve covered, the fact that music is a great thing, but we can value it more than Jesus so we talked about how we might see that in the people in our church, where we might see them valuing music more than Jesus, and then last week we talked about how we might see that in ourselves.

DZ: Right, in our practical application.

BK: Yeah, what are some signs that personally, we might be valuing music more than Jesus. So today I thought we could talk about why Jesus is greater than music, which should seem obvious, but maybe we could just spell it out so it’s very clear and it helps us fight that tendency to make music an idol.

DZ: Yeah, absolutely, that’s great.

BK: So just get started.

DZ: Yep.

BK: Alright. So first, music is a gift, Jesus is the giver. I remember years ago, hearing a sermon by CJ Mahaney, my Senior Pastor, dear friend, where he said that all gifts are meant to direct our attention to and create fresh affection for Jesus. That’s the purpose of gifts, they’re not an end in themselves, they’re meant to point beyond themselves. So it reminded me, at this point it reminds me of a time years ago on one Christmas when I did a great husband thing and I only mention that ’cause I hardly ever do great husband things, Julie was wanting this table, this big table from Pottery Barn and I knew we couldn’t afford it, but we saw it at a Pottery Barn outlet, which is a lot cheaper there, so without her knowing about it I made the trip to the store which is like an hour away, bought it, stored it in our neighbor’s basement and then Christmas morning, really early, without her knowing it, set it up in our living room, our front room. So that Christmas we’d opened all the gifts and I said, “Oh, there’s one more thing.” I love that, there’s one more thing. So I asked her to close her eyes, brought her out to the front room and she opened her eyes and she saw the table and you know what she did next? She ran over to the table and she started hugging the legs and kissing them and caressing them saying, “Oh, table I love you, I love you table!”


For sure.

03:01 BK: No, she didn’t do that. She opened her eyes, she started crying, she was so surprised, probably because I had surprised her, and she turned to me and she started hugging me and kissing me and saying, thank you, thank you. That gift created fresh affection in her heart for me, that’s what music is supposed to do.

DZ: That’s good, yeah.

BK: It’s not the source, it’s not the way to happiness, Jesus is.

DZ: Yeah. Right, it’s so easy to view it as the source, especially, ’cause we go to it constantly, different mood changes, different experiences, yeah.

BK: Yeah, so it’s something we value and it is valuable, but it’s just not the most valuable thing. So Paul talks about that in Philippians 3, where he lists all of his achievements and the way his heritage and who he was taught by, and he could value all these things, but then he says in Philippians 3:8, I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish. I count them as rubbish. So JI Packer, I read something about him, writing on this passage and he said this, “When Paul says he counts the things he lost rubbish or dung, King James, he means not merely that he does not think of them as having any value, but also that he does not live with them constantly in his mind: What normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure.”

DZ: Wow.

BK: Yet, this, in effect is what many of us do.

DZ: Yeah, yeah.

BK: Music is a wonderful gift, but it’s a terrible God, and even greater than the gift is knowing and loving the giver.

DZ: Yeah, well said.

BK: So that’s the first distinction, music’s a gift, Jesus is the giver, which leads into this, a second distinction and that is, music can provide temporary comfort, Jesus provides comfort forever. I’ve done this so many times, I’m sure those of you who are listening and watching, you’ve done this many times, you’re feeling down, you’re feeling discouraged, feeling sorrowful, sad, whatever, and you go to your favorite playlist. We even create playlists for this mood, this mood that make you… We go to our favorite artist or song to just encourage ourselves in times of difficulty, or sorrow, or loss, and God uses music. He uses means to encourage us, to calm us, to even strengthen our souls, but music is not Jesus. Only Jesus can give us lasting comfort, profound comfort, life-transforming comfort. It reminds me a verse in 2 Thessalonians 2:16, where he says, Paul says, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.”

BK: How does he give us that eternal comfort? Well, he might use music as a means, but it’s through his grace and that grace was purchased for us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. So that means if music… Listening to music doesn’t in some way lead me into a clearer, or deeper, or truer relationship with Jesus, it’s possible that it’s misleading us. So it’s a subtle distinction, but it’s a massive distinction because I might not be able to find music that really comforts me and calms me. Jesus has given us eternal comfort.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: And he’s always there. I don’t have to have my iPod, I don’t have to have my headphones, I don’t… He’s always there.

DZ: Yeah, that’s good. It’s when you’re tying comforts together like a playlist, multiple songs…

BK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

DZ: You get tempted to think, “Oh, this is actually giving me peace and providing for me.” But I love what you just said that you don’t need headphones, he’s always there. He’s always present, always bearing our burdens.

BK: And if you’re a musician that sounds counter-intuitive. Well no, music is how I calm myself.

DZ: Right.

BK: Well, yes, as a means you can calm yourself with music, but music can’t give you profound lasting comfort.

DZ: Yeah, yeah.

BK: Only Jesus can. He’s reconciled us to God. We were under his wrath. No longer are we under his wrath. We are his adopted children, dearly loved. We can experience fellowship with him through the spirit, any time. That’s comfort. Music can remind us of that.

DZ: Yes. Yeah, great.

BK: Even instrumental music. Sometimes I’ve been listening to an instrumental piece, whether it’s a soundtrack, or a classical piece, or whatever, and think, “Okay, the God who created this beautiful melody is the God that I now know because of Jesus.” And he’s more beautiful than the melody I’m listening to.

DZ: Yeah, that’s a beautiful way to listen and experience music.

BK: It’s the best way to listen to music.

DZ: It gives you gratefulness for what you’re listening to, but also opens you up to the creativity of that’s there’s jazz and there’s rock, and there’s pop and classical. And just even the uniqueness of how notes work together just shows a brilliant and beautiful creator.

BK: Yeah, God made it all.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: It all comes from him.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: So another way that Jesus is greater than music, music can point to the truth, Jesus is the truth. So this is a subtle distinction. Sometimes as Christians we can think that the goal is to sing songs that are orthodox, songs that are biblically faithful. And that is really important. If you know Sovereign Grace music at all, you’d know that’s… We really value that.

DZ: Yeah, you’ve committed your lives to that.

BK: Yes. We’re not just throwing out opinions in music, we’re not just writing about stuff that we feel. We’re seeking to write things that are biblically true, biblically faithful, sound doctrine, Sound + Doctrine. But that, singing those words is actually different from having a relationship with the one we claim to know so accurately. So you can sing true words and not know the one who is the truth. There’s a difference. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So just singing true words isn’t the same as knowing the one who is the truth. They can lead us to a greater knowledge of him and stir our heart’s affections for him, but it’s not necessarily the same thing. ‘Cause there are a lot of people who sing true words who don’t know the Lord or who aren’t receiving any benefit from it because they don’t know him.

DZ: Well, and only, he is illuminating those words to a dead heart.

BK: That’s right. The spirit is opening your eyes, opening your hearts to see what this means, why it matters and how it affects us.

DZ: Oh, yeah. Yeah, part of my conversion is going up in the church and singing hymns and songs and Sovereign Grace music my whole entire life. And it wasn’t until when I was in high school where I heard a lyric from, Jesus, I my cross have taken, and thought, “I don’t believe that.” I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think I would want that, what those lyrics are saying.

BK: Confronted by the very lyrics you’re singing.

DZ: And it was the Holy Spirit starting to change my heart. And that was part of how I came to faith was constantly singing the words.

BK: Oh, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that.

DZ: Constantly singing the words but them, not meaning anything to me.

BK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That’s so great. So music can point to the truth, Jesus, actually is the truth. Alright, so here’s another distinction, music can give us a feeling of unity, Jesus actually unites us. So and I started thinking about this during the pandemic. A lot of what we miss is that being together, just… Our church had began meeting to some degree and it’s just great to be able to do that, even the whole church isn’t there and I want the whole church to be there, but when we sing together there is a feeling of unity. And you don’t have to be a Christian to experience that. Scientists have done studies on this and they say that there’s a some kind of enzyme or something that’s released when people sing together, that gives a feeling of unity and we miss that. Jesus actually makes us one. It’s not just a feeling of unity, it is actual unity. No matter what kind of music we like and no matter whether we’re singing together or not, we are actually one. So singing together is meant to be an expression of the unity that Jesus has purchased for us by his blood.

DZ: That’s so good.

BK: He’s taken down the dividing wall of hostility. It says in… I think I have this right here. Ephesians 2:14. He himself is our peace, who made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressing ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two so making peace. So on the one hand, singing together with other believers is massively different from singing at a rock concert, a sporting event, or a karaoke party. It’s a different thing. But it’s not just the music, it’s not the music that brings us together, it’s Jesus.

DZ: That’s such an important distinction.

BK: Well, it’s so easy to confuse, ’cause I think sometimes we can love that sound, we can love the feeling, the ambience, the mood. No, no, no, what Jesus accomplished with the Gospel is actually unite people who were at odds with each other, who hated one another, who had nothing in common. Jesus has brought us together. And it’s something we can celebrate whether we’re separated during the pandemic, or when we come together, it still remains true that Jesus is the one who’s brought us together.

DZ: Yeah. And what a common grace that we feel that sense of unity in like, rock concert or whatever that we feel like. I remember Fabrizio who is helping us film this, him and I went to a concert right before COVID shut everything down, and I remember texting him saying, “We saw the last live show.” [laughter] But that sense of being unified in a room of strangers, even more so on a Sunday morning gathering, but in Christ, whether we are separated from a pandemic or we’re gathering together, that unity is through him. Not that we know the lyrics or we know the melody, but that it’s through him. I love that.

BK: Yes. Or that we like the same kinda music.

DZ: Yes, I love that.

BK: Because that’s where, I think, we can lose our way and… Yeah, churches will have… Think that unity is about doing one kind of music. No, as we’re able to, we should try different kinds of music and different arrangements and different kinds of sounds, but it’s not that that makes us one, it’s the fact that Jesus has paid for our sins. We have been brought into the family of God through his shed blood. We now live in the new life of the resurrected Savior, and we are fellowshipping in the spirit; that’s what makes us one. So even if your music, you don’t feel like it’s that great and people are singing out of tune, it doesn’t really feel like we’re singing together, you are one in Christ and that’s where we need to put our faith in, what we need our confidence in is that, yes, it’s great when the musicians play together and everything’s solid, and that’s a wonderful thing, but it’s Jesus is the one who unites us.

DZ: Yes, that’s great. That’s a great point. It’s a good point.

BK: So one more thought.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: And this is the big one. It’s just music isn’t the Savior, Jesus is. Music can’t save anybody. I’ve heard artists talk about how music is, yeah, it saves us, “It saved me and… ” It can’t save anybody. Our biggest problem is that we are under the judgment of a just and holy God, and we deserve to be punished. That’s our biggest problem. We’re alienated from him, due to our own sin and rebellion and we thought that we could manage life without him. Music can’t pay for those sins, Jesus can. And it’s so great that he can. Music can’t raise anybody from the dead, Jesus can. Music can’t defeat Satan, Jesus can. Music can’t bring us into God’s presence, no matter how many times you hear that, “This song brought me into God’s presence.” No, it didn’t, Jesus can. Music can’t reconcile us to God, Jesus can. Music can’t change our hearts. It can affect our hearts, we can feel emotionally moved, but it can’t change them, Jesus can. So music isn’t the Savior, but Jesus is. And I think the reason we experience these problems, seeing music as greater than Jesus, is we just don’t… We forget how great Jesus really is or we don’t know how great he is. We think we know, but we settle so easily for music as a substitute, music as a unifier, music as a comfort, music as the main gift, because we don’t see how great he really is.

BK: So I thought it’d be good if we just talk about how to grow your love for Jesus. It’s not that Jesus has been tried and found wanting, he hasn’t been tried. Even as Christians, we think we know him. And as leaders, we can think our people know him. And if we know Jesus for who he really is, it will change us. It will change the way we think, it will change the way we speak, it will change the way we live, it will change the things we pursue, our desires; it changes everything. And so we just don’t spend enough time reflecting on how great he is. So some of the things that I found helpful have been, first, starting with acknowledging this problem like, I really do often, or frequently, or sometimes see music… I run to music instead of Jesus. I don’t even think about Jesus, I turn my playlist and just, “That’s good. I’m good.” Maybe it can be helpful at times when you feel like you wanna run to music, don’t. Open your Bible, read one of the Gospels, read one of the Psalms. Go to God’s word looking for a greater view of Jesus, and remember why he is so great. Because Colossians talks about Jesus being the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation.

BK: This description of him is just amazing. For by him, all things were created. In heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. Jesus created everything visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities, all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Someone was saying to me today, earlier today, when we feel like everything’s falling apart, and a lot of people feel that right now, Jesus is holding it all together. And it’s good that we feel that things are falling apart, ’cause we can’t hold them together. Jesus can, so he’s that great. So go to the word, pray, rather than just turn on music. I found it really helpful to read books about Jesus and I wanna recommend one I read recently called, Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, read it twice. It is one of the best books I’ve read in last five years. And it is simply an exposition or an exploration of the words that Jesus used to describe himself in Matthew 11:28, Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

BK: And what I learned or remembered maybe in reading that book… Actually, what I learned was, I thought I already thought Jesus was really good. Reading that book, I just realized he’s a lot better than I think he is. And he’s always better than we think he is. And I read this quote from Charles Pearson one time where he said, “No one’s gonna get to the throne of God and look at God and say, “You know, I thought you were good, but you’re not as good as I thought.”


BK: Yeah, no one’s gonna say that. And so we wanna cultivate this view of Jesus that’s great and glorious, and compelling and powerful, so much so that when other things come along like music, and try to pull us away from that, we go, “Aha, I know what you’re doing. You can’t fool me because Jesus is better than you.” I’ve found The Valley of Vision really helpful, A Collection of Puritan Prayers. The Cross of Christ was really helpful, by John Stott. A little book called, The Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent, fantastic. So yeah, just be reading books that challenge your view of Jesus to be more than it is, to be greater than it is, to be more passionate than it is. So that, I found that helpful. Can I share more?

DZ: Yeah.

BK: You can interrupt me anytime.

DZ: No, I just was gonna say that that’s excellent because we’re always distracted, but especially now, when we’re isolated from maybe our churches, or our friends, or we can so quickly run to things that distract us. And…

BK: Well, and everybody’s looking for that hole to fill. It used to be filled with schedule, I know for me traveling. I used to do lot of travel, not doing that anymore. What are you gonna do with that time? And obviously, there are a lot of things we can do, but why not take time to reflect on how great Jesus is, why not take time to reflect on his personal, passionate, persistent love for you? That’s glorious and it’s what we were created for, to know him and to be known by him. So yeah, it’s good to do. And we can also meditate on what it’s gonna be like to see his face. There’ll be a day when we see the face of Jesus, the one who saved us, the one who lived a perfect life for us, and died our death and rose from the dead for us, and even now, is interceding for us, we will see his face. And we’ll see him forever. And just to think about that, John says, “He, who considers that he will see him face-to-face seeks to be like Him.” That’s the effect of that. He’s so glorious, he’s so beautiful, we wanna be like him. So I got a quote here I wanna share.

DZ: Yeah, please.

BK: And maybe we should finish with this, I dont know. It’s Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He says, “Learn… ” Who was a star, he was a missionary to the Native Americans, and died at a young age. I think 29, “Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take 10 looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in his almighty arms. Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart,” and this is what we were talking about, “so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.”

DZ: Wow.

BK: Ain’t that great? For every look at yourself, take 10 looks at Christ. And that’s… That’s just the way we wanna live. For every look at music, take 10 looks at Christ. He’s so much greater. He’s so much more glorious. We cannot value Jesus too highly.

DZ: It’s so excellent. Bob, so thankful that you’ve taken the time to put all these thoughts down and share them. I think just sitting across the table, it’s just… I’m just sort of waiting in the expanse of all of this and just feeling the weight of what I prioritize.

BK: Yeah, it’s always a question for us, yeah.

DZ: Yeah. And being musician and being an artist, it’s so wonderful to process these things together, and I know if our listeners are tuned in, they are experiencing the joy as well. But I thought it would be appropriate if we could just pray now and just allow a lot of these truths that we just spoke about to sink in, just taking the time to come before the Lord.

BK: That’s great. Well, Father, for everyone who’s listening, and even for those who aren’t listening, we wanna see your Son the way you see him. You said multiple times, “This is my beloved Son in whom I’m well pleased.” Father, we wanna value Jesus as you do. We want that heart of treasuring him, and esteeming him and wanting to honor him. And Lord we wanna see music put in its rightful place, we wanna see it as a gift, a good gift from you, that’s designed to point our attention to your son for your glory. We wanna taste and see that the Lord is good, not just music, that the Lord is good, and we want music to have it’s rightful place as a good gift, but we don’t want it to be a God. So especially for the musicians who are listening, Father, I pray that you enable us to have that heart that sees again and again, music is great, but Jesus is greater. And may that be reflected not only in our songs, but in our thoughts, and in our words, and in our lives. And we pray this in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus. Amen.

DZ: Thank you for listening to Sound + Doctrine, the podcast of Sovereign Grace Music. For more information, free sheet music, translations and training resources, you can visit us at