And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:18-21 HCSB)
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16 HCSB).
Singing is an important part of the life of the church. At Grace Community Church, we sing for many reasons, which can be remembered by the acronym FIRE: we sing to feel, instruct, relate, and exalt.
We sing to feel. In Ephesians 5:19, singing and making music is “from your heart to the Lord.” The psalms, which are themselves songs, are a library of emotions. We sing as a way of expressing to God and each other what we or others (or both) are feeling. We sing when we are
- sad (Psalm 6:6-7)
- thankful (Psalm 9:1)
- feeling alone and forsaken (Psalm 13:1-2, 22:1-2)
- trusting God (Psalm 23)
- confident in God’s protection (Psalm 27)
- forgiven of sins (Psalm 32)
- confused and angry about evildoers’ success (Psalm 73)
- broken and repentant (Psalm 51)
- depressed and don’t know why (Psalms 42-43)
- attacked by hateful people (Psalm 52)
- thankful to be saved (Psalm 63)
- sharing the gospel (Psalm 67)
- amazed at who God is (Psalm 93)
Throughout the Bible, God’s people have turned to singing and music to express their hearts to God and one another. Singing is not a way of plastering over how we really feel with a veneer of happiness; rather, we sing from the way we feel now, and many times singing can be a way of moving to the way we want to or should feel.
We sing to instruct. Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both describe the purpose of singing as “speaking to one another” (Ephesians 5:19) and “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). In fact, the Colossians passage specifically says that singing with each other is a way of soaking ourselves in Jesus’ word.
Putting things to music is one of the most common ways of learning things. The tune sticks in your head, and that tune gets associated with the words of the song. Learning rich, God-honoring songs–both the ones in the Scriptures and ones written by believers after the Bible was finished–is a way of keeping the truth about Jesus with us all the time.
What’s more, when we sing together–which is particularly what Paul has in mind in Ephesians and Colossians–we’re teaching each other, not just ourselves. We sing to remind each other of what is true because we’re weak and frail sinners who forget.
We sing to relate. Many of the psalms include instructions such as “To the choirmaster” or “for the flutes,” indicating that they were originally intended for a group setting. And, in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16, Paul tells them to sing with one another and to one another.
We sing together, because we are united in Christ as His body. We can sing sad and joyful songs, because we weep with those who are sorrowful and rejoice with the joyful. We teach one another by our songs, not only ourselves. And by hearing so many others sing the same truths, we’re reminded that we’re not alone.
We sing to exalt the name of Jesus. Whether rejoicing or weeping, we sing because of who Jesus is and what He has done. All throughout the Old Testament, songs are used to celebrate God’s saving power and loving mercy to them. Moses sang a song after the Red Sea crossing (Exodus 15); David wrote many of his psalms as a response to how God had delivered him from enemies like Saul.
Our singing, whether together in a worship service or individually during the week, is always and only possible because Jesus is our Great High Priest, interceding for us because of His perfect obedience, atoning death as our Substitute, and resurrection to the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the Worship Leader, and He gives us new hearts that want to sing.