By Mike Willis
To some the singing service is no more than an opportunity for the late comers to get their seat before the main feature of worship – the preaching – is begun. Without a doubt, most of us tend to give too little emphasis to worship of God through singing. Perhaps this is partially caused by a neglect in teaching the purpose of congregational singing. Too often we emphasize the negative aspects of worship – the apostasies which have resulted when people follow the teachings of men – without taking the time to examine just exactly what God expects us to accomplish through our worship.
For this reason, we must be extremely careful that we not commit the same mistake as the Pharisees committed. They emphasized the religious ceremonies but forgot the real meaning of devotion to God. We must be careful in our worship that we not take pride in offering just exactly the items which the Lord requires to the neglect of putting personal devotion and spiritual commitment to the lord in what we do. Hence, let us examine the type of worship which we should give to God in singing.
What We Should Sing
Both Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 relate that we are to he engaged in singing psalms, hymns and spiritual song;. Let us understand what is intended by these three divisions of songs.
1. Psalms. “In all probability the psalmoi of Ephesians 19, Col. iii. 16, are the inspired psalms of the Hebrew Canon” (R.C. Trench, Synonyms the New Testament, p. 296). From the time when they were written, the Psalms of the Old Testament have been widely recognized as songs of praise, devotion, and exaltation of God in which tire deepest emotions of the human spirit are poured out unto God. It should not be surprising to us that a part of the divine worship of the New Testament church should be comprised of the singing of these songs. Our sung hooks still contain several of the psalms in them, including the following: “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah” (Psa. 148), “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Psa. 23), “The Law of the Lord” (Psa. 19:7-14), etc. Some of our brethren who have talents in the music field would do well to work toward setting other psalms of the Old Testament to music for the Lord’s people to sing.
2. Hymns. A hymn is a song of praise to God. The main thrust of this type of song is that it is one of praise. Hence, a hymn might be also a psalm (cf. “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah!”) although not all psalms are hymns and not all hymns are psalms. We need only to remark that the hymn primarily is one that offers praise to God. In looking through our song books to notice songs of praise, hymns, which we sing to God, we notice the following: “Hallelujah! What A Savior!,” “Praise Him! Praise Him!,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “Praise the Lord,” etc. We often lift our voices to praise God in song; when we do, we are singing hymns of praise to Him.
3. Spiritual songs. To best understand what a “spiritual song” is, we might contrast it with “secular songs.” The secular songs are those songs which we hear on the radio SO’ frequently which exalt passion in the name of love, relate some sad story, etc. A spiritual song is a song composed by spiritual men and discusses spiritual matters. Most of the songs in our books fall into this category. They are songs which emphasize some spiritual truth and encourage men to believe that truth and obey it. Hence, we have songs such as “Love One Another,” “Send The Light,” “Let The Beauty of Jesus Be Seen In Me,” “Near to the Heart of God,” “Stand up For Jesus,” and any number of other songs.
Our worship services, then, should be filled with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. These songs express the deepest spiritual emotions of man to God as we exalt God through praise and teach and admonish one another.
How Do We Sing?
The Scriptures not only tell us what to sing, they also tell us how we are to sing to God. Here are some of the requirements for acceptable worship through song: (1) With melody in the heart. Paul commanded that we sing and “make melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19) and “with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). Both of these verses emphasize that our worship must proceed from the heart. The worship that is given from rote memory without any of the strings of the heart being touched thereby is not pleasing to God. I have witnessed worship (and offered it myself) in which the person was obviously not concentrating on what he was saying during the songs which he sang. Without the accompaniment of the heart, the worship is unacceptable. Hence, we should worship with heartfelt devotion to God; we should put ourselves into what we are singing. (2) With understanding. Paul also said, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15). This demands that we understand what we are saying when we sing the given song. Here is a song for you to study: What do you mean when you sing, “Here I raise my Ebenezer . . .” in singing “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing”? (Check your Bible dictionary or concordance to find out what an Ebenezer is.) I used to sing the “Church’s One Foundation” as if it meant “the church is one foundation.” We need to give attention to the songs that we sing that we be sure that we understand them.
Sometimes when we understand what a song is teaching, we will have to quit singing it. Some of the songs which are printed in our song books contain unscriptural ideas. The influence of premillennial teaching is sometimes apparent when we read the words of the given song in a careful manner. I can see no difference in singing a false doctrine and teaching it in any other manner. Hence, we need to be careful about how and what we sing.
The Purpose of Singing
Even as we consider what we are to sing and how we are to sing, we need to also give attention to the purpose we have in singing. God does not design singing as space-filler in worship. He has some definite purposes in mind in commanding us to sing. Let us notice what they are:
1. To Praise God. Inasmuch as one of the kinds of songs which Christians are to sing are hymns, we surely should conclude that one of the first purposes which God has in singing is to have us to offer worship to His Holy name. Every creature should be engaged in praising God for the many good things which He has done for us (read Psa. 103; Psa. 146-150; Rom. 1:21). The heart that does not offer worship to God for what He has done for us is an ungrateful heart.
2. To teach one another. Paul instructed us to teach each other in song (Col. 3:16). If one will go through the pages of his song book, he will see a number of very powerful lessons taught to us in song. For example, discuss the lessons in each of the following songs: “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “I’m Not Ashamed To Own My Lord,” “You Never Mentioned Him To Me,” “Ready,” etc. These songs drive home important lessons which all of us need to learn and to be constantly reminded of.
3. To admonish one another. Paul also mentioned that singing was designed to admonish each other (Col. 3:16). This word means “to warn, exhort.” Through our singing, we encourage one another to walk in the way that God has commanded us to walk. Notice some of the warnings and lessons in these songs: “Yield Not To Temptation,” “To The Work,” “Work For The Night Is Coming,” etc. You might want to look through your song book to find a special lesson which might be of help to one of your special friends and request that the song leader sing it. Through this manner, we can encourage one another to walk in the way God has commanded us to walk.
As we consider the divine purposes which God has given for men to sing, I think that we can develop a greater appreciation for the worship which we offer in song. God has some definite purposes in mind in commanding that we sing; as we come to understand and appreciate them, we can better fulfill His will in our singing.
As we also consider the deeply spiritual purposes of singing we should develop a deeper appreciation for the content of what we sing than for the melody to which it is sung. I am afraid that we frequently have a greater appreciation for the tune than for the content of the song. When that is the case, we have missed the main purpose of worship. Let us be careful to emphasize the proper part of worship.
Teaching Our Children To Worship In Song
In recent years, I have noticed that a large majority of our teenagers go through the worship services without blending their voices in song or, if they do sing, they sing so softly that no one could hear them. Perhaps we need to give more consideration to teaching our children to worship God in song. I remember while working with a congregation, I performed a wedding. One of the teenagers had been requested to sing several special solo selections for the bride and groom. As I heard her beautiful voice laud the praise of human love, I wondered why I had never heard that same beautiful voice during our worship services. If our teenagers can sing secular songs, they should be able to worship God through spiritual songs. Parents, have you been working with your children to teach them to sing praises to God and teach and admonish each other in song?
As we come to a better understanding of this part of our worship, let us work harder to offer to God the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:16), to Him in song. Let us resolve to never again think of singing as an unimportant part of worship. Rather, let us give ourselk es wholeheartedly in worship to God through singing.
Questions – Lesson IX
- What are the three kinds of songs which Christians are to sing?
- Discuss the difference between a psalm and a hymn.
- How did Paul say we are to sing?
- Are there some songs we cannot sing? Why?
- What are the purposes of singing?
- When we have a greater appreciation for the tustthan for the content of the song, what have we missed?
- How can we train our children to worship God in song?
- Take several songs from your songbook and discuss each one, noting the type of song which it is, the biblical passages from which it was taken, its primary message, etc.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 44, pp, 713-715
November 8, 1979