I’m in the middle of series on the role of a congregational worship leader, and I’ve been camping out on how music works in worshipping God. Yesterday I addressed how one of the primary functions of music is to help us remember God’s Word. Today, I’d like to share another way music serves us in worshipping God. We sing to respond to God’s grace.
Colossians 3:16 tells us that we’re to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God. God is not interested in mere lip service. It dishonors him. But he’s not looking for raw emotionalism either, that is, seeking emotion for its own sake. We sing to express thankfulness FOR something. That “something” is the word of Christ, which dwells in us richly as we sing. In a sermon on Singing and Making Melody to the Lord, John Piper commented:
“Music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music. Singing is the Christian’s way of saying: God is so great that thinking will not suffice, there must be deep feeling; and talking will not suffice, there must be singing.”
I’ve known people who have been taught to repress their emotions as they sing. They fear feeling anything too strongly, and believe that maturity is evidenced in restraint. But that seems to fly in the face of why God gave us the gift of singing in the first place. Jonathan Edwards responded to similar concerns in his own day with these words:
“The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections p. 44)
Worship leaders must teach their people the difference between being moved by music and being moved by the beauty of God’s glory in Christ. “I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.” (John Piper, quoting Jonathan Edwards in Desiring God, pg. 91) That is to say, singing is an ideal way, a God-ordained way of combining objective truth with thankfulness, theology with doxology, intellect with emotion.
Commentators acknowledge that no one can say for certain what Paul meant by “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” At the very least, it implies some kind of musical and lyrical variety. However, I’ll save those thoughts for a later series. Next Tuesday, I’ll share thoughts on how singing helps us reflect God’s glory.