in a brief series on corporate worship
This week we continue our series of messages, the
goal of which is to encourage more God-honoring corporate worship here at Mount of Olives. We have seen over the
previous three messages that God is worthy of our very best efforts and energies in impassioned corporate worship. We’ve been reminded
that all worship must be truth driven, that is--deeply rooted in the
Scriptures and finally, that God is not nearly as concerned about outwardly impressive worship performance as he
is with hearts filled with love for him. This morning, we want to look at a topic that in many churches has been utterly incendiary. In some churches to
discuss the topic music in worship is to throw gasoline onto a fire.
The old adage in church that when Satan fell, he fell into the
choir loft, has at least some anecdotal evidence to support it when you think about all conflict that has attended
this issue of music in worship.
Today, we want to focus on what
has often and sadly been missed in this discussion of music within the
our debates over musical forms, we have often missed the forest for
the trees on this topic.
Today, we want to look with a wider lens as we affirm the
Biblical truth that music is an indispensible
part of corporate worship.
Some of this will be review for the
music providers, but not all. Today,
we will focus on what the Bible has to say about singing within corporate worship because the Bible has much to say on that topic and because
most people sing in church as compared with those who play a musical instrument.
However, but as you will hear from the
Biblical texts we will cite, the Bible is not just concerned about singing
as a form of music in worship.
The question that will guide our thinking this morning is: Why
is music so much a part of Biblical, God-honoring worship?
Here are three answers from the
reason why music is so much a part of Biblical, God-honoring worship is:
When we sing, we are reflecting God himself.
It’s certainly appropriate to see music as a gift from God, but it
goes much deeper than that. The
reason music is a gift from God is because music, singing in particular, is simply part of who God is. Music is deeply anchored
in the personality of the
don’t readily identify God as a Singer or Musician, but the Scriptures
clearly show him in that light. In fact, each Person of the Trinity is pictured
in Scripture as a Singer. We
see the Father singing in
Zephaniah 3:14-17. The
prophet promises the people of Judah that after the
brutal judgment of God has come upon them for their
idolatries, he will yet once more in the future dwell with them
in their midst.
He prophesies, “14 Sing aloud,
O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with
all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has
cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel,
the Lord, is in your midst; you
shall never again fear evil. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak. 17 The Lord your
God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by
his love; he will exult over you with
God exults over his people with loud singing!
The Lord of the Universe sings...loudly. It won’t do to say
this is a metaphor—that God really isn’t singing—that this is just a dramatic way of saying that God will in some
generic sense “celebrate” over his people. If you are going to see his singing as a metaphor, then
you must also take his “rejoic[ing] over you with gladness” and his “quiet[ing] you by his love” as metaphors, because they are parallel to
God’s exultation with loud singing. God sings in exultation over his covenant people—that’s how much he delights in those
who look to him in faith. The
music we all have in our souls simply reflects the God who created us. The Father
is not the only Person of the
Trinity who sings. The
Son also sings. We see this in Hebrews 2:10-12.
The author describes the stunning
way in which Jesus identities with his people, the church. He quotes Psalm 22,
a messianic Psalm that points to Jesus to make his point. He says of the
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things
exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation [Jesus] perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies
and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he [Jesus]
is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying, [hear
this quote from Psalm 22] “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation [ecclesia—assembly, church] I will sing your praise.”
Jesus identifies closely with his brothers
(and sisters) through his human suffering, but that’s not the only way
in which he identifies with his church according to this text.
The author also pictures Jesus standing in the
midst of our assembly—our corporate worship and singing praise to his Father
This is why Sinclair Ferguson has said, “When
we come together
in corporate worship, Jesus is sharing our hymnal with us.” This is why many have called Jesus “the Singing Savior.” Think
about what it must have been like for Jesus during his earthly life to stand in the
temple and sing--long before he went to the cross--the
words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” C.H. Spurgeon contemplates
heaven and says, “How will we praise him,
but ah! Jesus
will be the
chief player on our stringed instruments; he will lead the solemn hallelujah which shall go up from the
…host redeemed by the
blood.” (emphases mine)
The Holy Spirit is also a Musician according to the
see this in two ways. First,
he inspired every song, every psalm, every hymn in the Book. That means we know
that, at the very least, the
Holy Spirit is the most inspiring and published lyricist of all time.
We can forget that the Bible, which is inspired by the
Holy Spirit, is chocked full of songs. Most of them are in the
Psalms, but there are many other
songs in the Bible as well.
After the children of Israel
cross the Red Sea, Moses and the
people of God make music—they sing a song—the
Song of Moses that was given by the
The Song of Deborah, the Song
of Solomon and dozens of other songs in the
Bible are all inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In the pages of Scripture, when
he inspires music to praise God, he’s not simply bending to a Jewish cultural convention. It’s not as if he looked
down at the Jews and said to himself, “Well,
those people do this strange thing—they sing, so I will use that form of their expression and write some lyrics for them.” No! The Bible teaches that
the Spirit himself inspires the
We also see the Spirit in this
role in Ephesians chapter five. In the second half of the
chapter, Paul commands the Ephesians to “be
filled with the Spirit.” That is—be under the
controlling influence of the Holy Spirit.
What do people do when they are
under the controlling influence of the
to verse 19 they are, “19 addressing one
another in psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart…” When a believer is under the influence of
the Holy Spirit, one of their
natural impulses is to sing and make melody to the Lord with their
a person is filled with the Spirit, one of the
consequences of that is--their hearts sing to the
Listen how closely God identifies himself with singing as the
Psalmist speaks of God in Psalm 40:3, “3 He [God] put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise
to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” God puts songs of praise
in our mouths so that we can praise him. Who better to put a song of praise to God in our mouths than God?
Again in Psalm
42:8 we read, “8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast
love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” This is his song--it originates with him, not us.
Another testimony that singing
and music originate in God is seen in the book of the
we peer into the heavenly throne room with perfected, heavenly worship--we
see… singing. Singing will not be
left behind on earth; it will be perfected in heaven.
In chapter five, the four living creatures--who
are angelic beings of some sort--sing, (that means that its not only humans, but also angels who sing) and the
24 elders fall down before the Lamb.
Verse nine says, “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,”
In chapter 15, those who had conquered the beast celebrate in heaven. “3
And they sing
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!”
on earth will not make it to heaven—only a few will go with us--the
word of God, language and worship, which includes music and singing.
Again, we see that singing is not native to this world or to humanity—it
originates in God. One
reason singing and music are an indispensible part of corporate worship is because when we sing, we are reflecting
God himself. And
to you men who have never overcome the notion that singing is in someway
not masculine—how does that line up with the fact that Almighty God
A second reason music is so much a part of Biblical, God-honoring worship is because God intends singing to be an extension of the
ministry of the
word of God.
We must never separate worship in song from worship with the
is an unbreakable connection between the two that we see in several
places in Scripture. This
connection between God’s word and music goes all the way back to the
beginning of established, formal temple worship.
In First Chronicles chapter 25, David, in the
last year of his reign, assembles a team of 4000 priests whose main responsibilities were all connected to offering
music within the formal corporate worship in the
temple when it was completed. Let’s
read verse one and then verses five to eight.
It says, “1
David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman,
and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals. The list of those who did the work and of their duties was:” [vss. 2-4 are a list of those involved] Then, in verses five through eight the
Chronicler tells us, “5 All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him,
for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. 6
They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. 7
The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing
to the Lord, all who were skillful,
was 288. 8 And
they cast lots for their duties, small and great,
teacher and pupil alike.”
There are several very interesting truths here that are important to us as we think about
singing within corporate worship today. First, notice these singers were by direct
appointment of the King.
That is certainly because David was a musician himself of some acclaim, but
think about it—it says something powerful about God’s estimation of the
value of music in worship when he places a skilled musician on the throne
of Israel during this time
when temple worship was being established. The timing there is surely
no accident. Second,
notice in verse seven that the musicians were “trained” and they
“were skillful.” This
was not a rag tag group of minstrels. And they were trained not only in music—though
that is implied—they were specifically trained in “singing
to the Lord” 288
of them—all skillful.
More important however than all that--is the
link God makes from the very beginning of organized corporate worship
between singing and the word of God.
Notice the tight connection between
music and the word of God in verse one.
It says, “the sons of Asaph, and of Heman,
and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals…”
These corporate worship leaders were appointed to minister in song prophetically,
using music as the vehicle through which God would speak to his people. Again, we see God singing to his
people through this inspired, Old Testament prophecy.
We see this connection between singing and the
word in the New Testament as well.
In Colossians 3:16 Paul says, “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.”
The “word of Christ”—the gospel--is to dwell
in us richly—it is to utterly permeate our hearts.
It does that in part as we teach and admonish each other
and one of the ways in which that teaching and admonishing is to be
done is through the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. As modern day educators
have re-discovered, a great way to teach people is through music.
God knew that from eternity past and he calls us to use music to teach and
admonish one another the
gospel—the word of Christ.
Notice, the music serves the
ministry of the word, not the
other way around.
The ministry of the word is the
predominate element in our corporate worship service.
It is no accident that when Luther
reformed the church, he placed the
pulpit at the center of the
platform and elevated it to show the centrality of the
word of God, not only in worship but to the Christian life. It is likewise
not by accident that the longest book in the
Bible is the Psalms—a worship book used in the
temple, and the longest Psalm in the
book by far is Psalm 119 which celebrates the word of God. We mustn’t miss the way in which music is
to be an extension of God’s word in worship.
This doesn’t mean that the only songs we sing
in church must be literal Scripture songs. Paul lists “psalms,” and “hymns and spiritual songs”—which according to scholars like
D.A. Carson “are broad expressions and
psalms, liturgical hymns as well as spontaneous Christian songs” We know from
other texts that Paul certainly held that the
preaching of the word should be the
central part of corporate worship. He tells Timothy in 1
Timothy 4:13, “13 Until I come,
devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture,
to exhortation, to teaching.” Paul wanted the word of God to be imparted
through the reading, exhortation and teaching of Scripture, but as we
have seen--he also expected that this would be done through singing.
Today, when we sing in church, we completely miss the
point if we are not seeking to learn something of God in the words we
are singing. Many
of the hymns and choruses we sing teach some very significant theology
and we mustn’t treat our corporate singing in worship as if it were a purely or even primarily musical exercise. Neither must we labor under the
notion that the singing is merely “fill” before we get to the
greatly minimizes one of the exalted purposes of singing in worship,
which is to build us up as we minister to one another the
truths of God’s word in song. A second reason music is so much a part of Biblical, God-honoring worship is because
God intends it to be an extension of the ministry of the
word of God.
A final reason music is so central to God-honoring worship that we have mentioned
before is—because words alone are not
sufficient to worship God.
To put it in neurological terms—God is so valuable, so precious--the
gospel so breath-taking--that both hemispheres of our brains must be marshaled to celebrate and express his glory. Not just the
thinking, analyzing side of our brains, but the feeling, creative, affectionate
side as well. John
Piper says it this way, “Music and singing
are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation,
heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description;
demand poetry and song and music.
Singing is the Christian’s way of saying:
God is so great that thinking will not suffice,
must be deep feeling, and talking will not suffice, there must be singing.
I’ve know people who have been taught to
emotions as they
sing. They fear feeling anything too strongly, and believe that
maturity is evident in restraint.
But that seems to fly in the
face of why God gave us the gift of singing in the first place…singing is an ideal way, a God-ordained way
of combining objective truth with thankfulness, theology with doxology, intellect with emotion.”
God has given us a great gift in music and singing.
He knows that words alone are not adequate to praise him.
Genuinely redeemed hearts yearn to honor him more passionately. Music is his gracious
gift to us so that we will not have to feel frustrated with offering to him only words
We can give fuller expression to our love and reverence for him through the
use of notes and rhythms and melodies and songs.
That brings us back to what we have spoken of before—our passion for God
and the condition of our hearts.
We must see that if God has given us music to more fully express our love
for God—if that is its purpose, then what a contradiction it is for
people to sing choruses and hymns in apologetic whispers with less passion than we would give to a rendition of
“Take me out to the Ballgame” during
a 7th inning stretch. Although
we all enjoy forms of music other than sacred music—classical, jazz,
contemporary, etc…worship is the highest purpose of music because worship
takes the strongly evocative, emotive power of music and uses it for
the highest good—to bring praise to God.
This emphasis on passion in our worship singing is seen repeatedly in the
Psalms. In Psalm 71:23 we read, “23 My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” In
response to God’s redeeming work in us, we shout in singing our praises.
The gospel and its saving work in us is the
ultimate example of “something to sing
and shout about.”
Notice that the reason for this
elevated volume is not because someone has a big mouth, it’s because there’s
passion for God in them.
In the same vein, Psalm 33:3 says,
to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” Psalm
47:1 “1Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout
to God with loud
songs of joy!” Psalm 20:5 again locates
the source of our shouting in God’s saving work, “5 May we shout
for joy over your salvation…” Psalm 32:11 “11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
This is a pouring out of ourselves in worship.
There is nothing here about restraint or repressing our emotions, though
different personalities will obviously express this passion differently than others.
Now, we must be careful here.
We must distinguish between, on the
one hand, the necessary heart condition that induces loud singing and
on the other, simply singing
application here is NOT—as some churches perhaps practice today—rouse the
people to sing louder in praise and worship in order to get them excited
so that “good worship” can occur. Often, what is exciting those people is not God and the
gospel—it’s the loud-speaker-driven musical energy in the
call of Scripture is to have a heart so filled with praise that you can’t do anything but sing loudly. If you sing loudly in church because that’s an expression of your fortissimo love for
If you sing loudly because you are proud of your singing voice and want others
to hear it—not great. That’s
taking worship, which is inherently GOD-centered, and prostituting it as a vehicle to self-centeredly showcase
your voice. If
you sing softly in worship, the remedy is not fundamentally to sing
more loudly, it’s first to ask—why do
I sing so softly?
If it’s because that reflects a heart that doesn’t love God very much, then
you have much bigger concerns then the
volume of your singing—you need your heart warmed with the blast furnace
of the gospel.
Get rid of the Spirit-quenching
idols in your life and you will find you be anxious to sing with more passion.
If you sing softly because you are inhibited by other
people’s opinions, or by a desire to maintain “respectability” in some repressed, unbiblical sense—then
feel freedom to cast off those unbiblical restraints and openly express your heart’s love for God. If you sing softly
because you have been told you are tone deaf, but you really love God, then
go ahead and express your passion for him and if everyone else is singing with impassioned joy, then
no one will hear you anyway. If
they do, then they
will probably be far more blessed by your “joyful noise” than you would possibly imagine.
If not, who cares what they think
sing for God, not those within the sound of our voice.
Music is a glorious gift of God to his church to corporately express our
impassioned love for him. If
you are missing that passion for him, then spend some time with God and ask him why you don’t love him with all
your heart, soul, mind and strength. May God give us the grace to use music and
singing in our corporate worship for his glory and our joy.