People, in general, like to sing. Whether they are very religious or total atheists, most people like music and song. Ask any football supporter. From singing, “Who ate all the pies” to the referee or “You’ll never walk alone” to their mates, fans like singing.
Fans pays hundreds of Rands to hear their favourite musician sing, even wave their cell phones and sing along.
In the morning, you might catch yourself singing in the shower.
Music is an inherent part of every society. All countries have National Anthems that its citizens sing together to create national unity.
Most people like singing. We may not be good at it, but we love it. Since music (and song) is such an important part of life, it should not be surprising that the Bible says much about it. In fact, the longest book in the Bible is a song book—the book of Psalms.
Often, in the Bible, when God has delivered his people, they sing about it.
For example, in Exodus 14 God delivers his people out of Egypt and opens the Red Sea and in Exodus 15 there is a song celebrating the fact that God is a great warrior who fights for (and rescues) his people.
In Judges 4 there is a great deliverance from a seemingly unbeatable army. Judges 5 is a song of praise to God who fights for his people and delivers them.
Music and song were very important in the Old Testament believer’s life.
Martin Luther wrote, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise”.
Why did Luther say this? Because there are at least 3 purposes for singing:
1. We sing to praise
Singing is a vital form of praise* to God and about God. For example, in Judges 5, Deborah and Barak praise God for who he is and what he’s done.
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing;
I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.
“Lord, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled
and the heavens dropped,
yes, the clouds dropped water.
The mountains quaked before the Lord,
even Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel.
(Judges 5: 3-5)
The Bible often remind us that praise is what God deserves, demands and desires. For example, Psalm 149:
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
When we sing at church, we praise God for who he is and what he’s done, like Deborah and Barak. A good example is the hymn, How Great Thou art:
Oh, Lord my God when I in awesome wonder
Consider all, the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee
How great Thou art; How great Thou art.
2. We sing to pray
Singing can be a form of prayer. The Psalms are full of prayers. Many hymns and songs are prayers to God. Take, for example, the chorus, Change my heart o God:
Change my heart ‘o God, Make it ever true;
Change my heart, O God, May I be like You.
You are the potter, I am the clay;
Mould me and make me, This is what I pray.
3. We sing to preach
Singing is a form of teaching. As the church sings together, we teach each other the truths of the Bible. In other words, when we sing, we sing to God and to each other.
As the song in Judges 5 was sung, the people of Israel were teaching and reminding each other of great truths about God and the deliverance he achieved. The New Testament commends the same thing:
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)
What do we need to do to have the word of Christ dwell in us richly? We need to teach each other. How do we teach each other? We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We teach each other biblical truth by our singing. Most of our time in a service is taken up by singing and the sermon: we are praising God and teaching each other.
At church, therefore, we need to make sure that we are singing the truth. We need to make sure that all our songs are theologically correct; that we are not teaching each other heresy.
4. We sing to express our Passions
A major reason why we all love music and song is that music evokes emotion, like little else does. Music allows our emotions about the truth to come to the fore. The truths of gospel, if grasped properly, should cause our emotions to well up inside of us. Music is a great way to express them, and to remember those truths. Sadly, because music on its own also evokes emotion, its often abused by some churches, and people end up feeling emotions that have nothing to do with God. But when God’s Word is present while we sing, our emotions are appropriate and even helpful in deepening our faith.**
Singing, therefore, is not just an added extra or something we do to fill the time in our church service; singing together is vitally important. We praise, we pray, we preach to one another and we express our emotions.
JC Ryle said, “preaching and praying will one day cease, but not praise and singing.”***
Here are just three practical implications:
If there is a song you don’t particularly like (and there will be!), sing heartily and bear with one another in love, because you know that there are other people who do like that song. Being Mr. Grumpy Face and not singing is very discouraging to all around you.
Be on time!
Another implication is that you arrive at church on time. Arriving halfway through the songs demonstrates (perhaps unintentionally) that you don’t consider the singing very important. Plus, you distract others that are singing. God desires our praise. It’s good for us to praise God – that’s why we were created.
This applies especially to those in the band, who lead others in singing. (I love church bands. They serve God and the church by helping the church to praise God.) In praising God, our default attitude should be joy and thankfulness. Not because of our present good or bad circumstances, but because of the never-changing goodness of God.
When we smile (and not be Mr. Grumpy Face), we show that our joy is in God because God is enough.
* Of course, praise is not synonymous with worship.
** Thanks Bruce Retief for the reminder that music stirs our emotions.
***Thanks to EMU Music for their TWIST Conference for many of these insights.