How the Church sings
Last week we looked at some of the reasons the Bible gives for Why the Church sings.
But does the Bible have anything to say about How the Church sings? Yes – consider these two parallel passages from Paul’s letters to the churches in Colossae and Ephesus:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21)
These Scriptures teach us that our singing is to be:
It is good (very good) to sing as part of our private and family devotions. Some Psalms are a personal commitment to singing God’s praise (for example, Psalm 61:8; 104:33-34; 138:1; 147:1), and it is good for us to follow that example.
But it is also essential for Christians to sing together. Many of the commands and instructions to ‘sing praises’ are given to the assembled people of God. (examples: Ezra 3:10-11; Psalm 65; 79:13; 95; 96; 135; 149; Isaiah 12; 54; Zephaniah 3:11-20; Zechariah 2; 1 Corinthians 14)
On the night of His betrayal, the Lord Jesus led His disciples in devotion, and instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Then He led them in singing a hymn (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). The last devotional activity in which the Lord led His gathered disciples before His crucifixion was congregational singing. Don’t underestimate the importance Jesus attaches to the united singing of His people.
When we sing psalms and hymns together we simultaneously direct praise to God and, as we saw last week, we minister to one another.
It would be great if the singing of even the tiniest congregation of Christians could match the choir of King’s College Cambridge. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter to God that it doesn’t!
Ephesians 5:19 puts the focus where it belongs - singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. The singing of a congregation that is united in heart is truly harmonious and delightful to God – even if some of us occasionally hit a wrong note or get the timing wrong.
We should strive to sing as well as we can – but as a congregation which bears the name of ‘Christian’, we MUST strive to be united in heart (Ephesians 4:1-3). That is the harmony that delights the Lord our Father even more than musical beauty.
Some of our psalms and hymns are explicitly and completely thankful. But not all are. Some are songs of humble repentance and pleas for revival. Others are longings and prayers for personal, congregational or even national needs. But whatever the content of the song, our singing is to be with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
David’s contrite song of repentance (Psalm 51) is grounded in his assurance of the mercy of God, and so the psalm starts and ends with thankful remembrance of God’s goodness (v.1, 15-19). Our singing (and our praying) should be the same.
Finally, Ephesians 5:20-21 remind us that our singing, and all our worship, is not about us. It is about our God, and it is to be designed and offered up to Him in a way that glorifies Him.
Our praise to the Father is in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians we know that we cannot come into God’s presence on our own merits. We must come to worship dressed in Christ’s righteousness. That’s why we come ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’.
And our submission to one another is an outcome of our submission to God. Even the way we speak and relate to one another is to be out of reverence for Christ.
Let us pray, and determine, that our singing and all of our worship as a congregation will publicly testify that we are children of God our Father.