Since the dawn of creation and throughout history, singing has characterized God’s people in worship. Mandated and exemplified in the Bible, singing is integral to corporate worship and is itself an act of worship. Psalms and hymns are a fundamental means by which believers respond to divine grace, communicate their praise, affirm their faith and proclaim spiritual truth. – From the preface to the Trinity Hymnal
Throughout history, God’s Church has a rich tradition of singing to the glory of God. Yet, in many churches, the hymnal has been jettisoned in favor of the praise song and corporate worship has been abandoned for the musical performance. The Scriptures, however, command the people of God to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Why is it imperative that the people of God sing?
God Himself Sings
The Scriptures teach that God spoke the world and everything in it into existence. Where there once was nothing, God spoke – and it was! Some have suggested that God did not merely speak, but he sang creation into being. While that is debatable, it is unquestionable that music accompanied God’s creative work. God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth. . . . when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4, 7). Not only did music accompany God’s Creation, but the Creator himself sang. In Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26, Jesus sings a song of praise with his disciples at the conclusion of the Lord’s Supper. The song they sang was probably Psalm 114 – 118, which Jesus led as an antiphonal psalm – Jesus sang a line of the psalm and the disciples responded by singing “hallelujah!” Hebrews 2:12 depicts Jesus singing a song of praise, “Saying, I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” Lastly, Jesus is the seen as the worship leader of the church in Romans 15:9. “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name.” In this verse, Paul the Apostle quotes Psalm 18:49 that speaks of the victorious Messiah giving thanks to God for deliverance and leading Jews and Gentiles in songs of praise bringing them salvation.
God’s People Respond
When Jesus sang following communion, his disciples responded by singing, “hallelujah!” When God declared his goodness and love for his covenant people, they responded by singing, “His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136). Paul instructed the Ephesians to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Uriesou Brito wrote, “Worship is not merely an intellectual exercise, it is an act of communication and communion between God and man. God speaks and we respond.” Singing to God with thanksgiving is a natural concomitant of the Christian life. The regenerate man who has been transformed by God’s grace and given new life in Christ will sing with joy to the God of his salvation. As Isaac Watts wrote, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.”
God’s People Obey
God commands us to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16) Paul mentions three distinct categories of music to be used to edify the Church. Psalms most likely referred to the 150 psalms of the Psalter and would be most familiar to the Jews. Psalms are especially important for the Church because they allow us to sing the words of the Scriptures. Hymns are songs of praise to God, and while they are not inspired Scripture, they may contain scriptural references that are useful to teach and admonish one another theologically. A stout hymn by Luther or Watts reminds us of our theological heritage and underpinnings. Spiritual Songs is a generic terms meaning different kinds of music sanctified for use by the Church.
God Reigns to the Sounds of Singing
Twenty-seven songs are sung in the book of Revelation, most of which celebrate God’s victorious consummation of his kingdom. Two notable songs, however, describe every living creature singing praises to God. First, Revelation chapter five describes Jesus as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David” – the only One worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals. This passage culminates with every living creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, singing this hymn of praise to the Lord:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13
The second song is recorded in the book of Revelation, chapter nineteen where the great multitude praises because God reigns and the wedding supper of the Lamb has arrived.
“And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” – Revelation 19:6
As creation was accompanied by God’s choir, and the new creation celebrated with songs of praise, let us glorify God, edify the Church, and look forward to that glorious day when we shall worship him face to face.