February 6, 2012

Songs, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Part 7 in a series on the church's "liturgy"

Why do we sing in church? Is the musical portion of the service designed simply to get our juices flowing, or to warm us up for the preaching? Is it the drawing card and the window dressing that brings folks through the doors? Well, our singing may in fact do all of these things – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But none of these are the reason for music in the church. No! We sing in church because God has told us to do so; because song is one of the chief ways the Bible urges us to praise the Lord!

The entire book of Psalms, remember, is a hymnbook! Each poem in that collection of 150 was actually written for the purpose of singing! God wants us to sing! Indeed, in the New Testament, we find the following set of instructions: “Do not get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the LordEphesians 5.18-19.

Now, of course, those instructions are not to be carried out only in our corporate worship. There are many, many occasions for the Christian to sing! But if there is one occasion where we must not miss the opportunity for doing so, it’s when we are all gathered together in the hour of worship. Indeed, Paul not only tells us that we should sing together, but also how. Our singing, he says, should be:

Plural. Simply note that Paul’s instructions were written to the entire Ephesian church, not just to those who ‘liked’ singing, or had a talent for it! No! All Christians are to join in the song! God does not critique what sort of voice you have (if it’s not so great, He’s the one who gave it to you, after all!). It is the melody of your “heart” – not your vocal chords – that is so important!

Vertical. Surely this is the most obvious thing. When we sing, we are “making melody … to the Lord.” He is our audience. He is the one we seek to please, not our neighbor or even ourselves. That puts a new spin on ‘what style of worship music I prefer.’ The first question is not about what I prefer, but about what please the Lord! It’s to Him we sing!

Horizontal. Though our singing is not aimed at pleasing or impressing our neighbor, Paul does say that our singing ought to help our neighbor. When we sing, we are “speaking to one another.” In other words, both the words we sing, and the passion with which we sing them, can be a real encouragement to those sitting next to us in the pews. So sing with all your might, and those sitting next to you will likely be encouraged to do the same!

Multiple. We are to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” In other words, our singing ought not be limited to one specific genre, but ought to include various different kinds of melodies and words – including singing right out of the Bible’s hymnbook, the psalms!

Spiritual. Where ought the “melody in your heart” come from, according to Ephesians 5.18-19? From our being “filled with the Spirit”! Christian singing, in other words, is not merely about saying the right words and hitting the right notes; it is not a personal performance, but a genuine act of worship – energized by the Holy Spirit Himself! This is another reason why our seasons of prayer and the reading of Scripture are so vital to our worship – they give opportunity for the Spirit’s moving in and upon us, so that our singing might be all that God intends it to be!

So then – let’s take full advantage of our opportunities to sing together – each and every one of us, both “to the Lord” and “to one another,” with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” and having been “filled with the Spirit.”

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