By Jim Upton
The Scripture tells us that fellowship with the saints is good; it should be encouraged.
It’s one of the pleasant things that’s made even better with a little coffee and banana
bread-or whatever-that the ladies serve before the Family Bible Hour. Sometimes
conversations that get started at these times need” just a few more minutes.
“We’ve got another 10 minutes before the preaching begins; they’re only singing now.
The singing will be better without my monotone, anyhow.”
Is that familiar? But, honestly, how does it measure up with Scripture? More mention is
made of singing then we might think-actually, hundreds of references, including the
Psalms, Israel’s national hymnbook.
A survey of the Scriptures, suggests two main purposes for congregational singing:
praising and teaching.
The first mention of singing is in Exodus 15 where Israel joyfully praises the Lord after
their redemption and after seeing the once fearsome Egyptian army drown in the Red Sea.
What a marvelous demonstration of God’s powerful and caring deliverance. They burst into
song, declaring the uniqueness and might of their God, while assuredly anticipating His
protection and care as they enter the Promised Land and for millenniums beyond. Miriam and
the ladies answered with their own song. They were songs of triumphant praise.
Later, as Moses was close to death, God wrote a song for His people, instructing Moses to
teach it to the children of Israel, because, the Lord says, ‘When I have brought them to
the land … and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn
to other gods and serve them … this song will testify against–them…for it will not be
forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their
behavior…… (Deut.31:20-2 1) In love God gave them a song that revealed not only His
accurate knowledge of their wicked hearts, but also declared His unfailing care guaranteed
to continue throughout His entire prophetic program that He planned for them and described
in this passage. With this song tucked into their memory Israel would have an inner
witness that they and all their future generations could reflect on. When their heart
would become estranged from the Lord the words of this song would be there to draw them
back to His protective power and blessing. This song was to teach their hearts and
therefore mold their lives.
The New Testament reveals this same purpose for singing, that is, praising and teaching.
Look at Ephesians 5:19 and its companion verse, Colossians 3:16.
In Eph. 5:19, the well-known “be filled with the Spirit” is followed immediately
by the charge to sing. When a saint is controlled by the Holy Spirit, the first response
stated here is to sing-surprised to realize that God puts this priority on singing?
Heart-singing requires neither lessons nor fine voice! Isn’t that good news? We learn also
that our singing is speaking to one another-“speaking to yourselves” (KJV), not
to go into a corner alone and talk to yourself, but to the others (“speaking to one
another”, NKJV). In addition to bringing praise to the Lord, singing also expresses
to others your personal joy in the Lord, in His grand salvation, and in His never-ending
blessing-blessing that you’re enjoying as you’re singing with others in your assembly. You
are in effect teaching them. That praise to the Lord does not only please Him but also
encourages fellow saints. What a privileged ministry we can have if we’re there!
In Colossians we’re told in many ways of the preeminence of Christ and of the believer’s
organic link with Him. We’re challenged to set our mind on things above and to let the
Word of Christ dwell in us richly. This is followed immediately by the directive to sing
so as to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). Just as the Holy Spirit produces
singing (Eph. 5:19) so does the Word of God. In both cases, it is to be genuine,
wholehearted praise to the Lord and helpful teaching to others. Not surprising, the Old
and New Testaments agree: the purpose of singing is to praise God and teach His people.
Ephesians and Colossians both insist that the singing must be “in your heart(s) to
the Lord.” However, Ezekiel 33:32 tells us of those who listen to a song, but regard
it only superficially: -… a very lovely song by one who has a pleasant voice and can
play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.” To
them it was music only for pleasant amusement. How easy for us, sometimes, to skim over
the words of a hymn we Ire singing-or hearing sung-without the words making any
significant impression on our hearts. Is singing to be mainly for our entertainment?. No,
not if we are to reverently regard the holy Scriptures. Our hearts must be involved
actively and honestly. God’s Word cannot be trifled with in this or any other issue of
The Greek word psallo, translated “making melody” in Ephesians 5:19, is used
five places in the New Testament. In Romans 15:9 it is said of Christ “…I will
confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your Name.” In I Corinthians 14:15 we
are told to “sing with the spirit and … sing with the understanding (mind).”
In Ephesians 5:19, it is “making melody in your heart to the Lord” and in James
5:13 it is “Let him sing hymns”-the whole person is to sing. New Testament
singing is then with the body (implied in the idea of physically singing), mind, spirit,
and heart; the whole person is involved.
The kind of songs we are to sing are specified as psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs.” Our songs are to be spiritual, having both the music and the words be such
that our sovereign Lord Himself can delight. Music (melody, harmony, and rhythm) alone has
an effect (a message) on the person and contributes to the song message; it did for King
Saul and still does in our day. Singing must be done with great care and spiritual
discernment in these days when entertainment is so highly applauded and spiritual depth
and meaning so willingly ignored.
Can we then purpose to sing with a purpose? Sing to praise Him and to teach His people.
So, join the saints at the start of the song session and bring your heart along, even if
you’re not musically blessed-and even if your coffee is not quite finished!
0 for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His Grace.