People sing for different reasons. However, when we are in our worship assemblies, we sing to offer praise to God. “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” (Col. 3:16). Paul instructed us to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. Sometimes the people in the pews during a worship assembly are referred to as “the audience.” This is unfortunate and inaccurate. God is the audience! We offer worship to Him.
Congregational singing is also a spiritual sacrifice. “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15). When it comes to sacrifices, God accepts only the best. Therefore, we must do our best when we sing. Not every Christian is blessed with a pleasing singing voice, but we are to do the best we can as we make melody in our hearts to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).
God designed singing in His worship to be of benefit, not only to ourselves, but also to other worshipers. The fact that a single act of worship can accomplish more than one thing exhibits God’s wisdom. Singing is a bi-directional activity. Congregational singing is not a performance for the people, but it is a means of edifying the church.
Paul spoke of singing as a means of teaching. As we sing during worship, we educate (instruct) one another. Christians need continual teaching (Heb. 5:12). Our hearts need to be stirred up by way of reminders (2 Pet. 1:12-13). This stirring up of zeal in one another can happen in numerous ways and at various times. One of these is singing.
Singing is also a means of admonishing one another. The word admonishing is translated from the Greek term nouthetountes which “denotes guidance or counsel concerning improper conduct, and thus means to warn others in order to help them improve their spiritual lives” (Olbricht 380). We all need to be reminded, warned, reproved, and motivated to live better spiritual lives. Congregational singing helps meet this need.
Mutual edification through singing does not happen accidentally or automatically. Some things are necessary for our singing to teach and admonish one another.
1. We must be present. We can’t teach and admonish one another with our singing if we aren’t present when and where the singing is taking place. We can certainly benefit from watching a recorded or livestream worship service, but doing so does not allow us to teach and admonish one another. One who watches a livestream service because he doesn’t want to physically assemble is forsaking the assembling of the saints (Heb. 10:25).
2. We must participate. Just being present in a room where worship is taking place doesn’t necessarily mean we are worshiping. “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8). It is a good thing to assemble with Christians who are worshiping God in spirit and truth, but must open our mouths and sing.
3. The songs must be scriptural. We are not authorized to sing whatever we want to sing. Just as the preacher is limited to proper source material (the Bible), song leaders are also limited to the types of songs to be sung in worship. Paul specified psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
· A psalm is an inspired song. The Old Testament book of Psalms contains 150 of these songs. Many of the songs we sing in worship today are patterned after psalms.
· A hymn is a non-inspired song of praise that addresses God or is about God.
· Spiritual songs are spiritually themed songs designed to teach, warn, or encourage obedience.
4. We must understand the songs. When he instructed the Corinthians regarding their worship assemblies, Paul said he was careful to “sing with the understanding” (1 Cor. 14:15). We may be entertained and emotionally moved by a song’s melody or meter, but we can’t be edified, taught, or admonished if we don’t understand the words.
Songs are poetry, which often employs figurative or symbolic language. Our hymns contain words or phrases that some may not understand.
· “Night, with ebon pinion…”
· “Here I raise my Ebenezer…”
· “In vain in high and holy lays…”
· “Sharon’s perfect sweet rose…”
· “O Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary…”
· “High above the seraphim…”
· “A bulwark never failing…”
Some songs require explanations to make sure we all understand what we are singing. A song leader does the congregation a favor when he gives such explanations before leading songs containing words and phrases that are no longer part of our common vernacular.
Conclusion: Congregational singing is an important part of worship. We don’t sing to connect together the other acts of worship (prayer, the sermon, communion, and taking up the collection). Our singing is a spiritual sacrifice each of us offers to God. It is a means of teaching and admonishing our brethren and stirring up one another to love and good works.