by Serena Sickler
Singing has always played an important part in Christian worship. Jesus himself sang a hymn with the disciples at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30). After Jesus' death and resurrection, the early Christian church continued singing psalms of praise when they gathered together to worship.
Fifteen-hundred years later Protestant reformers reestablished the importance of congregational singing which had been stifled by church leaders. Each new generation has developed what they thought was their own unique perspective on the best way to sing praise to God, but—with a few rare exceptions—they have all agreed: singing is a necessary part of worship.
Jesus himself sang hymns with the disciples at the Last Supper.
Their belief was not based simply on tradition but on biblical truth. The Old Testament especially instructs us to sing praise to God. According to Christian author and worship leader, Bob Kauflin (2008), "the Bible contains over four hundred references to singing and fifty direct commands to sing."
It would seem that something addressed so often and emphasized so strongly is important to God. But why is singing—particularly in worship—so essential? Though there are undoubtedly more, here are four biblical reasons that Christians sing in worship.
Expressing Truth About God
A proper definition of worship will help us to see how worship and truth correlate. Vine's Expository Dictionary (1996) says it well: "The worship of God…is not confined to praise, broadly it may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment to God, of His nature, attributes, ways, and claims, whether by the outgoing of the heart in praise and thanksgiving or by deeds done in such acknowledgment." John 4:24 reminds us, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
A major aspect of worship is simply recognizing truth about God. The psalms are full of these truths.
In Psalm 18:2, God is praised as a Savior and Deliverer: "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.”
It is not enough to know things about God. We must declare them to others!
Later on in the same psalm, we recognize His integrity and trustworthiness: "As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him" (Psalm 18:30).
We recognize his power as creator and ruler of all things: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
The psalmist tells us all these wonderful truths about God and urges us, "Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings" (Psalm 9:11). It is not enough to know all these things about God, but we must declare them to others!
Fulfilling God's Original Purpose for Singing
Before man was ever created God made angelic beings to praise Him night and day. Man was also created to love and glorify God in every area of his life, including musical expression.
One clear example of singing that pleased God took place at Solomon's dedication of the temple: "It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord. . .that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God" (2 Chronicles 5:14).
This is a beautiful example of what can happen when we worship God through our singing. God created all things to glorify Him. Music is just one of those things. Though we live in a sin-cursed world where music is often used to glorify sin, we—through Christ—can still use our music for God's original intent.
Being Unified With Other Believers
Psalm 149:1 says, "Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints." We are to praise God as a group, not just as individuals. Though we like to think we are self-sufficient, God never intended for us to live the Christian life on our own.
Though we like to think we are self-sufficient, God never intended for us to live the Christian life on our own.
The Hebrew writer addressed this issue when he wrote, "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
When we sing as a church we are encouraging each other to continue in Christ's love and service. We may all come from different backgrounds, but we all believe in one common faith. Our singing, especially the words we sing, emphasizes that fact.
Expressing the Christian Heart
Psalm 40:2-3 says, "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”
One can see the parallels between David's life and the life of a Christian: the deliverance from captivity, the fresh purpose in life, and the new song to sing. This new song tells of the joy and fulfillment we find in Christ; it signifies a transformed life. This song is more than just music to sing, but a life to be lived.
St. Augustine wrote both a warning and an exhortation to his congregation on singing a new song: "Look, you tell me, I am singing. Yes indeed, you are singing; you are singing clearly, I can hear you. But make sure that your life does not contradict your words. Sing with your voices, your hearts, your lips and your lives: Sing to the Lord a new song." Our singing should be an honest and joyful expression of who we are in Christ.
Our singing should be an honest and joyful expression of who we are in Christ.
It is important that we realize that singing itself is a means or vehicle for worship. The focus of our singing is ultimately not the singing itself, but the God which it praises. We do not have to be extremely talented to praise God. The most important thing is that we do it!
Psalm 150:6 sums it all up, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord." No one is exempt from praising the Lord—not even unbelievers! As Christians we should rejoice in God's salvation and through our singing point others to the God we glorify.
For more on music, read "What Does Our Music Say About Us."
Kauflin, Bob. (September 27, 2008). "Words of Wonder: What Happens When We Sing?" Desiring God. Retrieved from www.desiringgod.org/messages/words-of-wonder-what-happens-when-we-sing.
Vine, W. E., Unger M.F., & White, W. (1996) Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.