What the Bible Has to Say About Singing, Part 1

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Today I'm introducing a series of seven short articles outlining what the Bible has to say about singing. This series will not attempt to be a comprehensive list of everything the Bible has to say about singing, but will draw out some implications and applications about congregational singing using Colossians 3:16 as a framework.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. - Colossians 3:16 (NASB)

This passage instructs us about congregational singing in at least 7 ways.

  1. » The CAUSE and COROLLARY of our singing is God’s Word

  2. God’s Word should be the CONTENT of our singing

  3. Singing is a COMMUNITY activity

  4. Singing is a COMMAND

  5. There are a variety of CATEGORIES of congregational songs

  6. The CORE of singing is the heart attitude behind it

  7. The CULMINATION of singing must be God’s glory

For today's article, Part 1, we will look at #1 above.

The Cause and Corollary of our singing is God's Word

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you"

A. The CAUSE - singing should flow from treasuring God's Word

As a general rule, people sing about what they treasure. If you have any children, chances are that you've not only observed their incessant singing, but have also been moved to sing to or about them even if you don't consider yourself much of a singer. I have been so moved to meet each of my five children that I composed a song with their name in it within the first few days of my relationship with them. The songs that I wrote were the natural outflow of my experience of knowing and loving them. Even when songwriters sing about pain and sorrow, their pain usually represents the loss of something that they treasure or the realization that they will never have something that they have longed for.

The Psalms represent an inspired hymn book full of various kinds of songs to and about God. One of the explicit causes of many of these songs of praise is the joy the psalmist finds in knowing and obeying God's Law (the first portion of the Old Testament, written before the Psalms). The Psalms speak both of the command to treasure and the psalmist's experience of cherishing God's Word. Consider Psalm 119:171-172 (ESV)

My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.

The love that the psalmist has for the Lord and the gratitude he has for knowing God through His Word is expressed in songs. The Bible is our only sure and reliable way to know God, thus it should be the primary influence on and doctrinal safeguard of the songs that we sing.

What's more, singing is apparently one of the the predominant activities of those who are directly in God's presence. In Isaiah chapter six, the angels who surround the throne of God sing of God's holiness and glory. In Revelation chapter five we get a glimpse of thousands upon thousands of angels surrounding the Lord and singing His praises.

When we encounter the living God through His Word, it should give birth within our hearts to songs of joy and praise that reflect the content of how God has revealed Himself to us. In other words, our songs should be biblically driven and biblically faithful.

B. The COROLLARY (natural result) - singing helps us obey the command to treasure God’s Word

How does singing help us to treasure God's Word? In at least two ways.

First, it's far easier to remember a song than prose or even poetry. While we do not have the actual music preserved for us, the Psalms themselves were meant to be sung as an aid to memorization. Psalm 119 is even in the form of an acrostic with one section for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In today's culture, memorization is far less necessary than it has been in the past. I have the entire Internet at my fingertips with one of these new Google phones, so why memorize anything? Memorization has the immense practical benefit of burrowing ideas more deeply into the fabric of our minds and hearts. Songs or text that is memorized can come to us in our time of need, almost as if it is being "preached" to us from our subconscious.

We should help our people to cherish and memorize the lyrics of our songs. Consider putting the lyrics on bulletins that our people take home with them, putting the lyrics to a song in a weekly newsletter, or making them available in some kind of book. Teach your people that it's OK not to constantly look at a projection screen or keep their eyes buried in a book when the songs are familiar. Consider singing some songs completely from memory. At our church we sing the first verse of one of the standard doxologies ("Praise God from whom all blessings flow...) from memory after each monthly Lord's Supper service.

Second, singing also helps us to meditate on God's Word. When we sing, we are able to draw out phrases, pause between them for reflection, repeat words or lines for emphasis, and speak truth more slowly than we can when we speak it. All of these activities can help us to pay better attention to the truth of what we are singing.

Next time we'll explore how and why God’s Word should be the content of our singing


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