What is biblical singing? What is its purpose, and what benefits does it bring to God’s people? This article hopes to address these points.
What is Singing?
The verb “to sing” is defined as “to produce musical tones by means of the voice”. In the context of biblical singing, that would also include words. The activity of singing is deeply intertwined in the lives of God’s people, and the Bible is full of examples of it. A search of the word “sing” brings up 102 distinct verses, and if we include the various tenses “singing”, “sang”, and “sung”, the number rises to 144, 59 of which are found in the Psalms alone! The list goes on if we include other descriptions of singing in the search criteria. It is evident that the Old and New Testament church sang — plentifully!
Biblical examples of singing are divided into two main categories. The first is in the corporate worship of God (e.g. Ps. 95:1 — “O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation”.) The second is in a personal capacity, whether as an individual or as a group. Some examples are the Israelite women singing about David’s valour (1 Sam. 18:6-7) and Paul and Silas singing in prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25). Songs were sung in thanksgiving, to give praise to God for His various attributes, out of joy, to comfort, and to confess and express sorrow for sin and seek forgiveness. One question we can ask is — why?
Why does the child of God sing? Does he or she even need to sing? After all, we have the preaching of the Word as the means of instruction, and prayer as the means by which we communicate with God.
The answer is a resounding “yes”. We sing because we have to and because we want to! Singing is a necessary element in corporate worship, which God Himself commands in Scripture. In Psalm 111:1, God through the psalmist commands, “Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation”. In the New Testament, Paul in Colossians 3:16 calls the church to sing in worship: “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”. Singing in corporate worship is not optional or a matter of preference; the Word of God requires it.
We also want to sing. Singing can have many purposes, but its primary purpose is to praise God with the intent to glorify His Name. The words “sing” and “praise” are often put together in the Bible, especially in the Psalms, as if praise is itself the definition of singing. One example is Psalm 47:6: “Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises”. The child of God wants to sing praises to God — he who has tasted the goodness of God in salvation; does he not want to burst out in joy and exultation, glorifying God for His mercy and grace? We think of Moses’ song in Exodus 15 after Israel’s deliverance through the Red Sea, and Mary’s song in Luke 1 after realising her child was the promised Messiah. We think of the many Psalms that David wrote exulting God’s Name in his deliverance from his enemies. There is indeed much reason to sing!
You may be wondering what the difference is between singing and prayer. Prayer can also convey praise, sorrow for sin, thanksgiving, and other similar expressions. In fact, both are elements of worship by which we respond to God speaking to us in His Word. One difference is that the melody in songs conveys the emotions of the words to a greater degree than prose can. This is not to say that singing is in any way superior to prayer — both are ordained means by which we worship God. But there is something unique in the ability of songs, set in appropriate tunes, to combine ideas and emotions and heighten them, which make it a unique, poetic, and powerful way of praising God.
We have to be careful though, because songs are prone to abuse. There is the danger of emotionalism, when singing becomes purely an emotional release. A person can feel “touched by the Holy Spirit” and that he is praising God even if he sings heretical words. The emotion may be genuine; however, it is not of the Spirit, as the Holy Spirit always uses the truth of God’s Word. A poetic, well-written, doctrinally sound song with an appropriate melody brings about healthy emotions that the Holy Spirit uses to fill the mind of the singer, enabling him to praise God with his whole heart (Ps. 111:1).
Singing as Fellowship
Last, we deal with the subject of singing as fellowship. Singing is first and foremost fellowship with God. In corporate worship, it is a form of spiritual dialogue with God in response to His Word. Singing is a response of praise, and we have examined that in the earlier section. But as we sing, we are also singing to each other. For example, in Psalter 255 (versification of Psalm 95) we sing:
Now with joyful exultation
Let us sing Jehovah’s praise,
To the Rock of our salvation
Loud hosannas let us raise;
Let us sing praise to Jehovah, the Rock of our salvation! We exhort one another to sing, even as we direct this praise to God. We rejoice together as a congregation, and as we hear those in the pews behind us singing with gusto, we are reminded that indeed, let me sing praise to God; and the whole church rings with the beautiful voices of the congregation!
There are many other examples of singing as fellowship. We sing to instruct, to admonish, to encourage, to rejoice, to express sorrow… the list goes on. This is always primarily for the praise of God and for the edification of our fellow saints.
The child of God is one who sings. Let us use our voices to praise His Name, for He is the Rock of our salvation.
Written by: Matthias Wee | Issue 49