Why do we sing?

Time to read: 3 mins

The idea for this article comes from a Sunday School short talk given recently by a friend.

Singing in church or chapel is something we took for granted until about 2 years ago. Then COVID happened, and through the lockdowns, in many churches singing stopped in line with government regulations. The purpose of this post is not to comment in any way on whether or not singing should have stopped over the last year or so. Instead, I want to think more generally about why we do sing as part of our worship, whether in church or anywhere else. Here are three reasons:

  • Praise – Fundamentally, singing has always been an important part of praising and worshipping God. Right back in Exodus, after God defeated the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites sang a song of praise, ‘I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously‘ (Exodus 15:1). Many of the Psalms (written by David and others) were sung in praise, and singing was a key part of the Old Testament temple worship (see 2 Chronicles 29:30). In the prophets there are many exhortations to sing in worship – ‘Sing unto the LORD; for he hath done excellent things‘ (Isaiah 12:5, and see also Jeremiah 20:13; Zephaniah 3:14, Zechariah 2:10). Moving into the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples sung hymns together (Mark 14:26) and Paul encourages Christians to sing (see Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Finally, singing is clearly part of the worship of God in heaven, as we read in Revelation 4 and 5. All these examples are why singing continues to be part of our worship today.
  • Teaching / Learning – Writing to the Colossians Paul says ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.‘ (Colossians 3:16). I’ve added the emphasis, but note what it says – ‘teaching…one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs‘. Have you ever noticed how it is much easier to learn verse (e.g. poetry) than it is to learn prose? And also, it is much easier to learn something if you sing it to a tune. Many of the hymns we sing, simply and clearly summarise the truths taught by the Bible, and of course, the psalms are the words of scripture itself. Singing can be an invaluable way of learning and remembering these things. On the flip side, we need to be careful what we do sing as it is just as good a way of making us remember wrong things as well, both with hymns that are not theologically correct and with worldly music/lyrics.
  • Encouragement – Sometimes we feel discouraged and down. There can be many reasons for this. When we do, lifting our heart to God and singing his praise is a good way to encourage and lift our spirits. It reminds us of the God we love and serve, in whose caring hands are all our circumstances. A couple of examples from the Bible. When Jehosaphat was king and the enemy came against Judah, it seemed like defeat was certain. However, Jehosaphat prayed his well-known prayer ‘we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee‘ (2 Chronicles 20:12) and Jahaziel prophesied that they should go out to battle, and God would fight for them. We read that as the people went out to battle, they sung, ‘…and when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten‘ (2 Chronicles 20:22). Then, in the New Testament, in Philippi, Paul and Silas had been beaten and locked in prison with their feet in the stocks. No doubt in pain, discomfort and not knowing what the next day would bring, ‘at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them‘ (Acts 16:25). God then sent an earthquake which not only freed Paul and Silas, but was also instrumental in the conversion of the Philippian jailer and the founding of the church in that town.

Lastly, a word of caution. Music is part of God’s creation and can be very beautiful. The human voice is a sophisticated musical instrument. Singing is an important part of worship. However, as with all things we can get it wrong. Paul tells us about ‘singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord‘ (Ephesians 5:19). This is key. Singing (as with all of worship) must be from a sincere heart and with the focus on God, not on us.

[B00002 – 07/02/2022]

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