A lot of times we find it hard to engage in singing at church. There are a lot of things to distract us: funny unfamiliar phrases, me singing off-key in front of you, and a thousand other things. Why sing? Why purposely engage in worship?
Singing at Sunday gatherings is basically one-third of what we do. Why do we do it? Why does so much time go into singing? Why have a worship team? Why should so many dedicate so much time so that we can sing songs? There are a lot of reasons. We will only look at three below; the three “T’s” of singing within the church. Singing teaches us, transforms us, and helps us cultivate a heart of thanksgiving.
Singing Teaches Us
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).
“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19).
Singing teaches us. But how? First, what is singing and what is music? Dicionary.com says singing is “to utter words or sounds in succession with musical modulations of the voice; vocalize melodically.” Music is “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”[i] So, singing can “expresses ideas and emotion” in a unique way. In a way that informational teaching cannot. I can teach on the fact that God sent His Son to die for us but singing that same truth will impact us diffrently. Take these lines for example:[ii]
“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”[iii]
Singing and music hold the glories of Christ before us in a unique and powerful way.
Singing is a form of communicating ideas and emotions with voice and tune. Music is a gift. Music has the distinct ability to focus truth with laser precision. Music in Scripture is thus rightly placed in the same category as other speech gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:15, 26).
It is widely known that music has a special ability to affect people emotionally. It can help men march into war or weep at a funeral. Music is a powerful and precious gift but should not be wrongly used to stir peoples’ emotions up. That is, we desire the Spirit to move and transform people by the content of the song, not merely by the contours of the song. We are to sing praise with our spirit, and our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). So it’s important that when people are moved in Christian worship that they “be moved by the impact of the truth on the mind and conscience. Any attempt to bypass these is both wrong and dangerous.”[iv]
1 Corinthians 14:26 tells us that “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” So when we “come together” we have “a hymn” for the purpose of “building up” each other. Thus, one of the reasons we sing and play various instruments is for the purpose of building each other up.
The “word of Christ dwells in us richly” not just through listening to preaching, talking with friends, or even through the memorization of scripture, but also through “singing” (Col. 3:16). Thabiti Anyabwile has said, “Singing is the moving van taking the Word of Christ into the temple of our lives.” Notice that when we sing more of our whole person is involved—our intellect, emotion, and violation. It should be our desire when we worship to involve as much of our self as we can. This may sound strange but I believe it is accurate.
We are physical people; we’re not just souls. We have bodies. So, I believe physical actions (see kinesthetic learning) are important while we sing. When you worship kneel, clap, raise your hands, bow your head, and even dance! We see precedence for these things in Scripture (Ps. 2:12; 47:1; 95:6; 134:1-2; 150:4). Of course, everything should be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).
We must consciously think hard about what the song is communicating (thus we use our mind/cognition; 1 Cor. 14:15). We should thus also be greatly impacted by it (emotions). And as we worship our violation should be actively engaged as well (both in short-term kinesthetic acts and by long-term acts of service like ministering to orphans and widows). That is, we should actively pray for God’s truth to impact us, we should actively contemplate why God’s truth is amazing, we should actively think about the emotional response we should have, and we should actively evaluate how our everyday life should be reshaped in light of God’s truth.
The question could be asked, “To whom do we sing? I thought that when we gather and sing together, we sing praise to God. So how is teaching part of our songs of worship? How does singing teach us?”
Perhaps surprisingly, we see from Scripture that there are two audiences. We sing to “one another” and we “make music in our hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Music has both a horizontal and vertical element to it. Music has the function of edifying and transforming us from the inside out as we meditate on and proclaim God’s truth (cf. 17:17) and it also thanks God for who He is and what He has done.
As we sing praise to God we are also teaching our brothers and sisters (and even ourselves). As we sing in unison we are united in the teachings of the church. We are confessing truth. We are telling others of the gospel and the wonders of God. We are also internalizing God’s truth for ourselves. We are hiding God’s truth in our heart. We are letting Christ and His truth take up residence within us. We are teaching ourselves what to treasure and love.[v]
We give roughly one-third of our Sunday gatherings to singing songs of worship because singing these songs not only teaches but also transforms us. How does God use singing to transform us? …See Part Two.
[ii] However, I do not mean that teaching is not important. Instead, I believe they compliment each other.
[iii] “How Great Thou Art.”
[iv] Noel Doe, Created For Worship, 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections. John Calvin said, “We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words” (Institutes book III, 895).
[v] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).
To be honest with you I am convicted that I have not in my own life placed due emphasis on the Lord’s Day. So here I want to explore the Sabbath and what it means to us today.
Four major views on the subject:
First, the Seventh-Day Sabbath view. Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Seventh Day Baptists hold this view. This group gathers on Saturday for worship.
Second, the Christian Sabbath view. Edwards, Spurgeon, and a lot of other puritans held this position. They believed the 10 commandments are eternal moral laws and thus the 4th commandment still applies but they believed it applies to Sunday rather than Saturday. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, says the whole day should be spent in “the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Question 60).
Third, the Lord’s Day view. This is the view that I hold. Many of the people that hold this view are not very distinguishable from the Christian Sabbath view because of the way they live on Sunday.
In this view Old Testament regulations are obsolete (cf. Col. 2:16-17). However, believers follow the New Testament principles about the Lord’s Day. 1) Worship with other believers is the priority on the Lord’s Day. Believers are to gather together (Heb. 10:25) and it is observed from the New Testament when they gathered (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2), on Sunday-the Lord’s day, the day when Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead. 2) This group observes Sunday as a day for remembering the Lord. It is His day! They evaluate every activity in light of this truth. This day is reserved for extended worship of our great God.
Fourth, the Oblivious view. This is when Christians do not care and do not even consider what is and is not right to do on Sunday. This is where the majority of Christians are. However, it is also the worst place to be.
What does it mean for us today?
What does “honor the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” look like now (see Ex. 20:8-11)? It appears from Scripture and early church history that the Church began meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Sabbath, because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (See 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 20:7; Jn. 20:19 see also Matt. 28:1,6; Jn. 20:17; Lk. 24:45-47; Jn. 20:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Jn. 20;22; Acts 2:1-4 for other “first day of the week” passages). That is why the majority of Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This was truly a radical shift. Yet, of course, the shift came because of something far more radical, the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15).
So historically we see the surprising shift from gathered worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We also see that in Mark Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28 note context). What did Jesus mean? Can we just do away with the fourth commandment?
Jesus meant that Sabbath observance is not the end-all and be-all. The Sabbath is not an end in itself or the greatest good. It is designed to help, restore, and revive God’s people. The Sabbath is not to be legalistically observed like the Pharisees in the passage but neither is it to be disregarded.
Dr. Donald Whitney has said,
“Resting from work and worshiping God in prescribed ways on the Sabbath (Saturday) was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (Exo. 31:16-17). But it isn’t a sign of the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant Sabbath isn’t for New Covenant believers (Gal. 4:9-11). The Sabbath was a symbol, a “shadow . . . but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus Christ and His work is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. A person now enters the Sabbath rest by resting from trying to work his way to God and trusting in Christ’s work (Heb. 4:9-10). Thus we should read the Fourth Commandment with New Covenant, Christ-focused eyes.”
Ok, so we have a little bit of the context set. What does that mean for us? Does the fourth commandment still matter? Yes! All of the other commandments are still very vital, thou shall not kill is a good one. All of them are good ones. So, I think it is more a matter of how we keep it. Jesus did not say I am doing away with the Sabbath or the importance of the Sabbath. He said it was important, we need it, it is for us. Yet, that does not mean that we have to count how many steps we walk on the Sabbath to ensure that we are not working on it. However, it is important!
The Lord’s Day is a great privilege and not a burden. In fact, it is a great means of undeserved kindness to us. We must remember that God told us to honor the Sabbath, which I believe now is the Lord’s Day, not to burden us but to bless us. Often people talk about not doing anything on Sunday because it is wrong, yet I think it would be more accurate to carefully consider what we should do. We are exhorted to keep the Day holy; we are not exhorted to lounge around, though that is not necessarily wrong. I believe, however, that the Sabbath is meant for much more than just physical rest, though that for sure is a blessing which you will see if you’re at my house around 3pm on Sunday, yet what we need more is spiritual refreshment. We need the Words of life to feast upon. So yes, lounge around. But I greatly encourage you to lounge around with a Bible or a godly book. Make the Day holy!
A Few Practical Principles:
Lastly, a few practical principles for keeping the Lord’s Day holy (for myself as well!):
- Remember, the Lord’s Day is a blessing and a grace. We do not want to neglect that which God has blessed us. “Men honour God when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.”
- We must prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move in powerful ways, for the pastor, for the whole service. Pray for and examine your own life and confess sin. We prepare for so many things, should we not prepare to meet the LORD God in worship?! As J. I. Packer says, “An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent.”
- Public worship is central on the Lord’s Day. We must do what it takes to make it central. Go to bed early, wake up early, have clothes laid out and ready to go, etc. We make plans for other important things… we must also plan to make worship gathering central. It should be a priority (Heb. 10:25).
- Does your normal Lord’s Day use of time feel like Monday? Does it rob you of joy? How can you restructure your day to be refreshed in the Lord? At my house, for example, we often have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot so we have one less thing to distract us from worship.
- In regard to what is acceptable to do on the Lord’s Day, I think it is helpful to ask if it is necessary, is it an act of mercy, does it celebrate the Lord’s Day, and truly revive your soul?
- Though, the Lord’s Day is very important and very helpful we must avoid the pitfalls of legalism. I, for instance, have in the past had to miss church because of work. We should not make these decisions lightly. Individuals have to work out their particular convictions on their own based on Scripture.
 From class notes from Dr. Donald Whitney’s class “Personal Spiritual Disciplines.”
 J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, 252.
 Ibid., 253.
“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 comes in the context of thankfulness and living in light of the gospel. In the beginning of Colossians 3 we have seen that we are raised with Christ (v. 1), hidden with Christ in God (v. 3), and will appear with Jesus in glory (v. 4). So we see Colossians 3:16 flows from the gospel.
We see that there are two primary ways that the word of Christ dwells in us richly: 1) teaching and 2) singing. Teaching is important but it’s not the only means that God uses to implant His truth deep inside us. God richly blesses various forms of singing. Singing can be used to make Christ’s word dwell in us richly.
Wow. That is powerful. Singing is important. Singing is serious.
We all know this. We all resonate with music. It can move us even when we don’t know why. It can help us memorize memorable and meaningful lyrics but also obscure and corrupt lyrics.
What should we sing about when we’re gathered togehter?
“Word of Christ”
When we come together and sing to one another we are to have as our goal Christ’s word dwelling in us richly. That is, we want to focus on who Christ is and what He has done, His person and work. We don’t want to keep our eyes on the horizontal, on what we have done or are called to do. We want to keep our eyes on the vertical, who Jesus is and what He has done.
When we gather to sing we want to sing songs that display the glory of Christ Jesus, who He is and all He has done. We want to see Christ! We want to exalt Christ! That does not mean that there can’t be variety. It means that in all our variety we don’t want to forget to worship the Lord God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
We see we are told to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” We also see variety in the book of Psalm. Psalm 46:10 tells God’s people to be still, Psalm 150:5 encourages loud clashing cymbals. Psalm 136 has simple and repetitive lyrics. Psalm 105 has more sophisticated and substantive lyrics. Psalm 51 is a humble confession and Psalm 103 is relentless joy. The book of Psalm, the great song book of the Bible, has variety in style and lyrics. This variety served Jewish people of old and it continues to serve us today. Variety is good.
The issue is thus not new songs verses old songs, hymns verses choruses, or an issue of style. The issue is does it make much of and point us to God and His glory? Does it point us to Christ?
Although, we desire a variety of different songs and even music genres this does not mean that skill is not important. Skill is important. Remember, singing is serious and we should take it seriously. Notice Psalm 33:3 says, “Play skillfully” so that must be what we strive for no matter what type of music we play or sing.
It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (cf. Ps. 100:1-2). So let’s praise Jesus with joy. Singing is serious.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
Songs to Keep in Regular Rotation
- In Christ Alone
- Before the Throne of God Above
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
- Speak, O Lord
- Behold Our God
- Holy, Holy, Holy
- The Gospel Song
- Grace Greater Than All Our Sin
- Jesus Paid It All
- When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
- All I Have Is Christ
- O Great God
- We Will Glorify
- Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
- How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
- My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
- You Alone Can Rescue
- Man of Sorrows
- Your Great Name
- This is Amazing Grace
- Be Thou My Vision
- Grace Alone
What other songs would you add and why?
 “It is indisputable that music is one of the most powerful media humans have at their disposal; how it mediates and what it mediates are notoriously hard to understand or explain” (Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth, 14).
 See Tom Olson, “Singing That Flows from the Gospel” 147 in Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. This document relies heavily on Olson’s chapter.
- “Start Over” – Flame feat. NF
- “Relief” (Acoustic) – Wolves At The Gate (feat Toby Morrell)
- “Redeemed”- Big Daddy Weave
- “Break the Cycle” – For Today
- “Killa” – Lecrae
- “This Is Amazing Grace” – Phil Wickham
- “Lord, I Need You” – Matt Maher
- “Rock of Ages” – Ascend the Hill
- “Your Great Name” – Natalie Grant
- “Sweetness of Freedom” – Citizens