Why Sing Rightly
“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord” (Exodus 15:1). Thousands of people singing. I can only imagine the harmony and sound of this singing. We hear the sound of hundred member choirs. Even small groups of people “harmonizing” gives us a peaceful heart of reflection. Singing has been a part of church gatherings since the coming of Christ and establishment of His church. And as we see in the opening text of Scripture, they sang long before that too.
Mary sang when she went to Elizabeth in Luke 1:46-58. In Ephesians 5:19 the church sang together, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. As the body of Christ gathered they sang. We also see future singing in glory, Revelation 5:9 “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ “, Revelation 15:3 “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”
There is something wonderful, spiritual, enormously great about singing of what God is doing, has done and will do. The entire book of Psalms is a book of songs that the church often sang. Music, singing has been an integral part of the church from the beginning. God’s people have always sang. But the question I must ask is one that often has caused ruffled feathers, “are we singing rightly?” So let me explain my question. Just because we call it “Christian music” or “gospel music” doesn’t always mean it’s what it is. When we sing these questions should arise. Who are we singing to? What are we singing about? Is it man centered music or God centered music? I am not going to debate the genre of music or styles, because that’s irrelevant. Every generation has different styles. But what I am going to debate is the content.
Music has had an influence on every generation. It has influenced secular culture as well. And music in the church isn’t unbiblical. But music in the church should be biblical. When I first became a Christian in the early 1990’s, the biggest controversy of the time was contemporary Christian music vs. the old hymn’s or southern gospel music. A new generation of Christians liked the different genre or style and the older didn’t. It became quite the issue. In fact, it often overtook the actual preaching of the gospel. Honestly, there wasn’t much concern about content, it was the style that was the issue. I’m not dying on the hill of style. However, I will go to the hill on the issue of content.
Let’s explore the biblical view of what we sing and why. Back to the book of Exodus 15 we see the song of Moses that was sung. We have to ask the question of why. Exodus 15:1 “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” They were singing because God had delivered them from Pharaoh. He had done miracles and they witnessed these first hand. He drowned the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. The remaining chapter sings of God’s word of redemption and deliverance. Of course, this is a reason to sing. The song of Moses wasn’t about the woes of the people. The content of this song was about God’s rule, reign and power. They sang. The lifted their voices because of what God did.
The book of Psalms contains ancient Israel’s favorite hymns and prayers, which were used in their worship of God, the Great King. Some of the reformers only sang the Psalms in the church for fear of singing something man centered. Think of the psalms as entries in a diary; they reflect people’s most intimate encounters with God. Watch for figures of speech, exaggerations, and repetitions. The point being of singing the Psalms was directed to who God is, what God is doing and what God has done.
The question for us today is the music we sing in our church today reflect God and His doings or man and his troubles? Someone once gave an illustration about singing in the church relating to the content of the song, is it vertical or horizontal? In other words, does the content exhort and glorify God or is centered on man and his woes? Many songs from different genres reflect mans’ woes, which are horizontal. They often play on the heart strings of human emotions. When these songs are sung in church as a part of the worship service, the focus becomes human.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). And in Ephesians 5:19 “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” It would be faithful for us to assume the content of these songs. They likely sang the Psalms. But we see spiritual songs as well, which would give us an indication the content of those songs was about the deliverance and salvation of the Lord.
Singing isn’t worship, but it’s a means to worship. When we sing our hearts are focused on what God is doing, has done and will do. We sing about things we know to be true from His word. As we sing corporately together, as a church of believers, we sing about the redemption of God. We would expect the pastor to preach the truth, and we should sing the truth.
Songs that drive the emotions of the heart are often man centered. By that I am referring to songs reflection on personal issues, struggles and so forth. They may refer to God, but the primary words of the song are man focused. I agree, that through personal trials and struggles God is faithful, long suffering and merciful. But if the content of the song is void of that, then it’s man focused. Having a God focused song, or what I call a vertical song, is focused on God’s and His word, promises and works.
No matter the genre of the music, if the content isn’t right, then why are we singing it? Don’t misunderstand my plea, content is king when it comes to preaching and music. Everyone expects the pastor to preach and teach the truth of God’s word. So when it comes to singing we should do the same. The fact is music has had an affect on culture for centuries. And music has its place in worship. The Scripture is full of passages reflecting music. The church should sing. It should sing loudly. It should also sing rightly.