Elements of Congregational Worship: Singing

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Last time I wrote about the importance prayer in a worship service. Today I want to write about the second important element in congregational worship: singing.

2) Singing

James Montgomery Boice observes,

“There are many kinds of worship, just as there are many styles of music. But it is no accident that biblical worship, in its Old Testament, New Testament, and subsequent church forms, includes much singing. Singing expresses human thought emotionally, and Christianity is a feeling religion. More particularly, singing expresses joy, and the Bible’s religion at its heart is joyful. True, there is sorrow for sin. There is empathy for those who are deprived or suffering. But there is also joy in our salvation and enthusiastic praise of God, who has provided it for us.”[1]

And how true is that? Singing is a wonderful way for people to express their feelings to God. It adds an emotional aspect that other elements cannot. When done appropriately, it is a great way for people to worship God.

Not only is it “great” but it is also biblical. All throughout Scripture there are accounts of people singing to God. Israel sang to God when they got out of Egypt (Exodus 15:1-21), David sang after defeating the Philistines (2 Samuel 6:5; 6:12-23), and David even hired trained musicians and singers as part of the temple worship (1 Chron. 25:7).

The Psalter is full of calls for people to sing to God in worship. Many of the psalms of David are filled with exhortations such as, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy” (Psalm 5:11). In fact, it is expected that the Psalms will be sung in worship to God.

In the New Testament there are multiple accounts of people singing. When Mary was told that she was pregnant and then visited Elizabeth she sang a song of praise (Luke 1:46-56). Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn during the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:30). Paul and Silas sang hymns while in prison (Acts 16:25). In his letters, Paul makes several references to singing (Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15).

Scripture also makes it clear that singing should be part of congregational worship. Let’s look at two related passages that point to this idea. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:18-20,

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Similarly, Paul writes in Colossians 3:16-17, “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.”

Did you catch that? In both of these passage Paul encourages singing specifically to the congregation. He says, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (v. 19). The Colossians passage says, “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” (3:16).

Paul makes it very clear that singing should part of the church. Now just like with prayer, it can (and should) be done individually, but it should certainly be part of congregational worship as well.

One last thing: Not only does singing glorify God, but notice in these passages that singing is also for the edification of the listeners. Paul says that people are to be taught and admonished through the singing. This means that we should be singing doctrinally sound, God-glorifying songs.

So may that be a challenge to us. Singing is not just an emotional, fluffy act. Singing should be challenging, doctrinal, and glorifying.

As a church, will we glorify God in song? And will those songs have some meat to them? God doesn’t want the cotton-candy songs, he wants the meat and potatoes kind.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 776.