Jesus does not redeem us for our ability to lead a tune. But he does redeem us for the purpose of our glorifying him through song, and demonstrating our unity in Christ by singing the same song. Thus, every Christian should be a singing Christian, and every voice in the congregation matters. You could even say that your voice is essential.
singing in small groups, and carrying a song of praise to the Lord in my heart has been my joy. Singing has brought me peace in times of distress, reminded me of God’s truth, inspired me to be bold, and comforted me when I’ve been sad.
For these reasons, I believe singing is essential to the Christian life and essential in the life of congregational worship. But it is not my desire to merely express another opinion or give philosophical reasons that singing is important. Instead, I would like to expound on what the Scriptures teach about why singing is essential when God’s people gather as a congregation.
One: Congregational & Individual Singing are Explicitly Commanded by God
When the people of God gather for corporate worship, they have not come to watch a concert, quietly sit and listen to a band, or simply meditate to music and words together. This is not to say that listening to special music or attending a concert cannot edify, should not be a part of a worship service, or not be worshipful. Those are helpful but there are a multitude of commands, exhortations, and encouragements to sing and praise the Lord in vocal participation as a congregation. Bob Kauflin says that the BIble has over four hundred indirect references to singing and at least fifty direct commands to sing. Many of these passages below are from the Psalms – the congregational ‘hymnal’ of the Old Testament exhorting us to worship both corporately and individually through singing.
- Psalm 149:1, “Praise the Lord! Sing a new song to the Lord, And His praise in the congregation of the godly ones.”
- Psalm 22:25, “From You comes my praise in the great assembly; I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.”
- Psalm 57:9, “I will praise You, Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to You among the nations.”
- Psalm 111:1, “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, In the company of the upright and in the assembly.”
- Psalm 47:6, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises.”
- Psalm 96:1, “Sing to the Lord a new song; Sing to the Lord, all the earth.”
- Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16b are addressed to congregations instructing them to sing (speak) to one another through music.
The lyrics of many current songs of worship exhort us to corporate worship. For example:
- “Shout to the Lord all the earth let us sing!”
- “Come let us sing”
- “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
- “All creatures of our God and King / Lift up your voice and with us sing”
- “All hail the power of Jesus’ name!”
- “Come Christians join to sing, Alleluia, A-amen!”
Two: Genuine Worship in Singing is Wrought by the Holy Spirit.
True worship isn’t about the external music, the ‘act’ of singing, frequency of singing, or number of songs on Sundays. Also, singing is not exercised because of “tradition,” “habit,” or merely “to include a song” in order to say we’ve worshipped God.
True worship through singing comes from the Holy Spirit’s work in one’s heart. Ephesians 5:18-19 is key to our understanding of where worship emanates: “And do not get drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.”
True worship supernaturally emanates from the heart (v. 19) of a Spirit-filled life, which connects back to a life of walking in obedience to Christ (v. 18). In other words, v. 19 is a result of v. 18. A Spirit-filled Christian has a praise-filled heart toward the Lord. When we congregate, the manifestation of a Holy Spirit filled obedient Christian is “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.”
John MacArthur says it this way:
“The Spirit-filled life produces music. Whether he has a good voice or cannot carry a tune, the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Nothing is more indicative of a fulfilled life, a contented soul, and a happy heart than the expression of song.”
MacArthur, Ephesians, 256.
Three: Singing is a Response to the Word of the Lord
Colossians 3:16-17 reminds us:
“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
This is a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:19. One of the responses to the Word of God is “teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
When the word of the Lord is proclaimed, and our hearts are touched, the Holy Spirit works within our hearts to respond in singing and praise with thanksgiving to God.
Four: Singing is Clearly Commanded in the Assembly of Other Christians
Ephesians 5:19, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord”
Colossians 3:16b, “admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
The speaking and admonishing of one another is through the act of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another.
The context of these verses is important. These letters are addressed to congregations and the command is for all believers – not just those who have musical gifts or specific individuals such as soloists. To say that congregational singing is never commanded to congregations would be to overlook these passages and our personal responsibility of ministering to one another in the Biblical context of the gathered congregation. Like many of the “one another’s” (e.g. love one another, encourage one another, teach one another, etc…) of the New Testament, we cannot simply ignore their practice for a period of time. The one another’s are commands to be obeyed as the Lord brings opportunity – and congregational gatherings are for that opportunity.