“Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:1-2)
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)
As human beings, our relationship with singing begins very early in life–even before we are born, in fact. At 6 months of fetal development, the cerebral cortex becomes capable of supporting thought. Over the final months of pregnancy, an unborn child mentally absorbs the sound of his or her mother’s voice. And researchers have found that, once born, patterns in a child’s cry reflect the auditive nuances of a mother’s speech. In other words, the newborn’s cry literally resembles the sound of her voice, meaning that even before we are born, we are learning to sing in unison with another human being.
A Matter of Obedience
But we don’t necessarily need research to know that singing with others is fundamental to our personhood. It’s an obvious part of what makes our humanity…well, human. It should be no surprise, then, that singing with others is a vital part of the Christian life. Over and over again, the Scriptures drive home the command that God’s people ought to express our worship through song. In fact, it’s one of the most oft-repeated mandates in the entire Bible. And when the church gathers for worship on the Lord’s Day, song is one of our most powerful forms of engaging with God and one another.
Therefore, with the imperatives of God’s Word in view, we come to see that our sung-worship is actually a matter of obedience. I realize that statement might seem a bit extreme, especially to those of us who don’t particularly like to sing. You might even be thinking, “Of course the worship leader has to say that!” But I just don’t see any other way around it. A Christian who doesn’t sing is biblically unthinkable. If you don’t believe me, just consider the sheer force of passages like Psalm 96 and you’ll hear the whole earth being called to worship the living God on a daily basis through songs that retell His salvation.
Make no mistake about it, God wants us to sing. It’s simply non-negotiable. Why? Because to not sing is to refuse a gift that God has given His people for His glory and our good. Through song, He is more fully experienced, enjoyed and honored; and His church is built up for greater faithfulness.
At Home in the Gospel
To be sure, singing isn’t just for the musically gifted or for people who can stomach FM radio. Rather, it is important enough to be a matter of obedience for every Christian. It forms us in the truth of God, getting the things that matter most through our thick skulls in a way that nothing else can. This is why the apostle Paul mandates singing for the New Testament church, saying that it is through song that the “word of Christ” comes to dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16). With Colossians 3:16 in view, one worship leader put it this way:
“Music helps us remember and hold to the truth of God because our songs about God combine both the intellectual truth about God and our emotional response to those truths. Singing about God gets his truth stuck in our hearts, and as it dwells there richly, it draws us into deeper communion with him.” (Matt Oakes from Make, Mature, Multiply, p. 141)
That helps us grasp the formational significance of song as it relates to the ‘word of Christ,” or the word about Christ, which we call the Gospel. For the Gospel to have its full effect in our lives, we must have a way to “own” it–that is, to internalize it and stake our very identity on it. And singing does that for us. It stirs us in a way that nothing else can by making the essential truths of our faith accessible, memorable, and emotionally stimulating. That way, we can recount them in a simple, but meaningful way. For instance, it’s one thing to merely recite the lyrics of well-known hymns like It Is Well or On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand. But it would be an entirely different thing to rally a group of 200 Spirit-filled Christians and get them singing those same lyrics together. Do that and you will find something otherworldly afoot, something that a cursory recitation could never muster.
I think that’s because, when we sing, we find ourselves at home in the Good News that Jesus is true God from true God, becoming fully human, living a righteous life, applying His righteousness to low-life sinners in His crucifixion, and breaking free from the vice grip of death in His triumph over the grave. And people from all walks of life filling the atmosphere with songs of praise provides royal screw-ups like me with some much-needed Gospel sanity. It engages our bodies, hearts, and minds–that is, our total personhood–with the saving power of the risen Christ, with whom we have communion through the Holy Spirit. That’s why we sing so much on Sundays. We can’t afford not to be reminded that the indwelling Word of Christ is far bigger and way more powerful than we have yet to understand.
So let’s be a people known for our loud, exuberant, and happy singing. If there is any group of people in the world who should jump at the chance to sing, it is we who have been filled with the Spirit of Christ. Because Jesus is alive and well, we have no excuse to not make the most of these vocal chords God has created us with. He fully intends for His Gospel not only to be told, but also sang! So this Sunday let’s glorify God, magnify the Gospel, and edify the church by belting it out from the depths of our hearts. The Good News is much too beautiful for our mouths to stay shut, don’t you think?
Liturgy for Sunday, May 24, 2015:
Call to Worship:
Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117)
Confession & Assurance:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:25-28)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)
You may also subscribe to the Spotify playlist for this week.