Why the church sings
1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.
2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to Him with the harp of ten strings!
3 Sing to Him a new song; play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
These opening words of Psalm 33 call God’s people to be forthright, conspicuous and uncompromising in our praise to God. It is ‘fitting’ for saved people to praise wholeheartedly. Anything less is unworthy.
What reasons does the Bible give for the church to sing?
The Psalm continues by providing good reasons for those who have received God’s blessings to be vocal in their praise. Yet the Psalm focuses only on the Old Testament works of God – without explicit reference to the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints had abundant reasons to sing, play music and shout joyfully – but we in this New Testament age should be outdoing them every day!
The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the time of Christ and the salvation that He alone brings. And he saw the saved people praising and singing with joy. That’s a fitting response.
1You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, that You might comfort me. 2“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:1-3
Praise to God our Saviour – including praise in our congregational singing – is an indispensable feature of real worship in the church.
In Colossians 3 Paul catalogues some of the characteristics of people in whom the Holy Spirit is at work, transforming them from ‘earthly-minded’ to ‘heavenly-minded’ people. In v.16 he includes:
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.
Loud singing, beautiful singing, maybe even enthusiastic singing can all be produced by skilful leading or by an emotion-charged environment. But singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs together in a thankful manner can’t be manufactured. It happens only when a congregation has a deep devotion to the word of Christ – worshippers who not only know and acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God, but in whom that Word ‘dwells richly’.
Thankful praise flows out of hearts that are full of the word of God. And praising God by singing well-written, thoroughly biblical songs helps to keep our hearts full of the word of God.
Singing is also one of the ways we minister teaching and admonition to one another. ‘Admonition’ includes correction – getting one another on the right path, theologically and practically. We teach each other when our singing consolidates and embeds the truths of Scripture in our minds and hearts.
And so the church is built up.
In Psalm 96, which also deals with worship in the Church, we read:
1 Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day.
3 Declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples!
All the earth should be singing God’s praises. But all the earth isn’t! So it is vital that Christians do – and in doing, that we tell of His salvation from day to day.
When God’s people sing praises, we not only remind each other of God’s salvation (that’s a blessing in itself), but we are to do so in a way that people outside the church hear as well. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples! Those references to ‘the nations’ and ‘the peoples’ are important. That doesn’t just mean ‘the people who are already in the church’ – it particularly means ‘the heathen’ (KJV). Those who reject, deny and even oppose the gospel are to have God’s glory and God’s saving works declared to them. Singing is one of the ways God has given us to do that.
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name”. Romans 15:8-9
Acts 16:25-34 tells us what happened when two down-and-out Christians sang praises to God in the hearing of unbelievers. The preaching of the gospel is the primary tool of evangelism (Acts 16:31-32; Romans 10:14), but let us pray that God will also use even our singing in His work of drawing people into the kingdom of Christ.
And so the church is built up.