Why Does the Church of Christ Sing?
This morning, my lesson has to do with the question, why do we sing? Actually two questions. The first question is, why do we sing? And the second question is, why do we sing? Now you might be thinking, he's gone off the deep end. I want to talk to you about the thing that we do here every Sunday and Wednesday, we sing.
Why do we Sing?
Have you ever gone into another church or another type of church? I have. As you know, I was raised a Roman Catholic and whenever I bring visitors to visit Montreal, I bring them to Saint Joseph's Oratory. It has wonderful architecture. And they're amazed by the size of the building and all that. And when they walk into the big chapel- chapel is not the word- in the big auditorium at the top, the thing that amazes, especially people that come from the United States, the thing that amazes them is the organ. This humongous organ that's in the back, especially when it's playing, it totally fills that auditorium.
And I've been in other church buildings where there's a bass guitar or a drum, a piano and all kinds of things. And I see it advertised in the newspaper, the idea that there's going to be a big, inspirational weekend or something and some band will be there and they've got an eight-piece band, and so on and so forth. And when you come into a Church of Christ, no matter where you go, here, Montreal, Toronto, Singapore, wherever you go in the Church of Christ, you walk in and the thing that you notice- the first thing, is that it's usually very simple- but you notice that there's no instrumental music anywhere. All the people do is sing, when they worship.
One of the first questions is, how come you don't have an organ? How come you don't have a piano? How come you don't have bands? How come you don't use instruments when you worship God? How come you sing? Why is that what you do?
Well, the answer to that is that we sing when we gather to worship God because the Bible tells us to sing. We have a command from the Bible that tells us what to do, and that command is that when we gather together to worship God, we should sing. If someone says, "Well, where does the Bible say that?" Well, let's take a look at First Corinthians 14. Let's establish our basis here, First Corinthians 14:14. In this context, Paul is talking to the church at Corinth and, actually the problem was speaking in tongues, people were having arguments over spiritual gifts. Paul is explaining to them the proper attitude and the proper procedure in the worship. And he says to them,
14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15aWhat is the outcome then? I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also.
- I Corinthians 14:14-15a
In other words, we should understand what we're saying when we're praying. And then he says,
I shall sing with the spirit and I shall sing with the mind also.
- I Corinthians 14:15b
He says, when he worships, when this apostle worships, he prays with the mind and he sings with the mind. In describing the activity of the church when it gathered, Paul says that they sang, that's what they should do, sing. And then in Ephesians 5:19, again, Paul is talking, now to another group of Christians in Ephesus and he is saying to them, be careful how you walk. Don't be like the people in the world. There's something different about Christians. There's a lot of things different about Christians and especially about the Christian religion. The Christian religion and its worship is much different than the pagan religions and their worship. And he wanted to make a distinction between the two. And so he tells them, Christian worship, there's no orgies, there are no wild drinking bouts, as there were in the pagan religions. And he goes on to describe this idea of Christian worship, he says,
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,
- Ephesians 5:18
And then he describes, what does it mean to be filled with the spirit? Does it mean you're jumping around? Does it mean you're getting all excited and rolling on the floor? What does it mean? Well, he explains what it means to be filled with the spirit. He says,
19speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God, even the father;
- Ephesians 5:19-20
That is what being filled with the spirit is all about: exchanging songs, encouraging one another, using spiritually-minded words to express spiritually-minded truths, singing to one another, making melody with the heart. That's what Christian religion is all about, in the sense of its worship. It's not all that we do. Sure there are good works and there's the preaching of the Gospel, but when we gather together for the purpose of praise, this is what we do for the purpose of praise: psalms and spiritually-minded songs, and singing and making melody in the heart.
Listen to what Paul says now to another group of people in Asia Minor, he says to them,
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
A completely different set of people in a completely different culture at a completely different time. And what does Paul the Apostle say to these people? When you gather together to praise God, you should exchange psalms and spiritual songs and, do what? Sing and make melody in your heart. And then finally we'll pick another New Testament writer, just to make sure that everybody's saying the same thing. We go to James chapter five. You wouldn't think you'd go to James to get a lesson on singing, but in James 5:13, James, the Lord's brother, speaking now to a completely different culture- in Colossians, Paul may have been speaking to the Greeks and the Gentiles, but James is a Jew from Jerusalem talking to Jews. And he said to Christian Jews,
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing praises.
- James 5:13
Sing, he says. You want to praise God and thank him? How do you do it? What's the natural response? Sing. He says, sing praises to God. Now, I wanted to show these scriptures to you to demonstrate that we have instructions in the New Testament on what to do when we gather together to praise God. We have commandments here. We have a way to do things which is clearly spelled out.
Not only is the instruction clear, but also the word that Paul uses clearly identifies the thing that we should do. And that's Bible study. We don't say, "I think, I feel." That's for Romance- I think, I feel. I think I love you. That's for romance. That's for modern pop songs. But for Bible study it requires a little bit more seriousness. It's not, "I think, I feel." You go by what it says. You find out what the words mean, what they actually mean before you go ahead to make doctrine.
And so, what does the word sing mean? The New Testament was written in the Greek. What does the word sing mean in the Greek? Well, the root word that was used in each case was psallo, which is a Greek word, which meant to sing, but it meant to sing without the accompaniment of an instrument. There were particular words in the Greek that referred to specific actions. And the word that Paul used in all of these instances was the word psallo, which means to sing without the accompaniment of an instrument. Today we call that a capella.
Have you ever heard of a capella singing? A capella singing is singing without the use of instruments, which happens to be very modern today. The guy who won the Grammy Award was an a capella singer. He makes all his own sounds with his own voice. The Nylons are another popular group today, singing without the accompaniment of instruments of music. And so the word psallo meant to sing without the accompaniment of instruments.
And it's an interesting background. Originally, the word meant merely to pluck an instrument. Originally, psallo, meant to pluck, you know, like to strum, to pluck an instrument. But then as time went on, the word meant not to pluck the instrument, but the song itself, when you used the word, it meant you were referring to the song that was being sung. And then in modern times, or in New Testament times, the word meant merely to sing the song, not to pluck the instrument or the song itself. It referred to the singing of the song without the instrument.
Someone may say, "Yeah, but in the Old Testament they used instruments. In Psalms, David is talking about psalms, the tambourine and the liar and the harp and all that." Of course, you're right, in the Old Testament, during David's reign, the temple worship was filled with instruments. They had bands that had parades. They had huge parades that went into the temple, everyone playing instruments of music. But you need to realize that was 1000 years before Jesus Christ. By the time of the Babylonian captivity, which was 400 years after David, around the year 600 BC, synagogues began to be established and musical instruments in Jewish worship began to be eliminated.
And you know why? Because the Jews began to see that it was too paganistic. Their worship was becoming like the pagans. The Pagans were using worshiping instruments in their worship. And so the Jews began to eliminate it from their worship. And so by New Testament times, the Jews themselves only sang. Their worship service did not include any instruments of music. They merely sang during the synagogue.
Well, when determining what we should do as Christians- I've given you the command. I've given you the instruction that the Bible says. I've given you the the root word. When Paul said, "sing." He was using a word that the Christians in the New Testament understood meant to sing a capella, without use of an instrument. I've given you the dry material, but I wanted to give you the background of why we should follow this example.
You see, when determining what we should do as Christians, there's a basic rule that we need to follow. When the Bible specifically tells us by word or example what it is that we should do, then we should do that and not add or subtract anything else. If the Bible says, "sing" and it explains it very clearly, we ought not to add anything to that or take anything away.
I'll give you an example. If you go to the restaurant and you say to the waitress, "I want a bacon and cheese sandwich with a coffee. Black Coffee, please." That's all. Does the waitress say to you, "Do you mean to say you don't want a hamburger? You don't want an omelet, you don't want a hot dog?" Does she have to tell you what you don't want? No. You've told her what you want. If you tell her what you want, it eliminates everything else, right? You've said, "I want a bacon and cheese sandwich and coffee." That means that's all I want.
Well, it's the same thing in the Bible, when God, through the Spirit, tells us in His word, "I want you to sing." That eliminates everything else. If we know what to do according to the New Testament, we should just do that and not add to it or take anything away from it. And so, when we add instruments to singing we're adding to what God has told us specifically to do.
We shouldn't take away singing. If anyone at a meeting says, "I haven't got a good voice. I get out of breath. It takes up too much time." You know what I mean? "If we just eliminated the singing, we could be out of here 15 minutes earlier and be home for lunch. So, let's just eliminate it. It wouldn't cost any money for songbooks. We could get rid of the songs. It would be nice." Why don't we do that? Because the Bible says we should sing. So we're not allowed to take something away where the Word tells us to do something. Well, in the same way, if someone says, "I think our singing would be a lot better if we added a guitar, a base, a saxophone, a nice electric piano. It would just improve it." Well you can't take away and you can't add, you just do what it says.
And that's so hard today, in our modern society, where we're so used to doing our own thing. It's tough to just follow the plan as it has been given to us. And so, if the Bible gave us no teaching on the subject, if we had absolutely no teaching, we could do what we wanted. If the Bible said nothing about how to praise God, we could figure out any way we wanted to praise God. But the Bible does give us teaching. It tells us to sing and it tells us what kind of songs, not just any old kind of song, spiritually-minded songs and hymns, and how to do it. We have to do it with a cheerful heart and make melody with our hearts and sing one to another, and sing praises to God. It gives us a very clear indication on what to do, how to do it, when to do it, why to do it. And our role is not to question, our goal is to do it. I know we don't like that. We don't like to do things, but once we understand what it is that we have to do to please God, then the great joy of Christian life is to do it, to actually do it.
Well, that's the basic grammatical argument for singing. Why do we sing? Well, we sing because the Bible says, "sing." And do you know that history confirms this? We know that the apostles taught not only by words, but they also taught by the activity of the early church. Let's say we close the Bible and we just study history, from history books. There are many historians that wrote about the New Testament church. If you study what historians wrote about the early church, the church that was established by Jesus and the apostles, you'll find out that every historical record of worship describing the early church states that it was forbidden to use instruments. Do you know that every record written about the early church, when it comes to its worship, always states that the early church forbade the usage of instruments of music? Do you wonder why that is? I'll tell you why. It's because the apostles taught them to sing. And when the question of that came up, should we use tambourines, should we use harps, should we use these things that all the other religions are using? The answer was no, because they were taught to sing, and that's all they did. They understood and they obeyed what the apostles taught them by word and by example.
Someone may ask, "Well, where did the organ come in?" That was the first musical instrument brought in, in recorded history. The record of the first instrument of music brought into a Christian context was only in the middle of the seventh century. Seven-hundred years went by and the Christian church only sang, because they understood what the New Testament said. In the middle of the seventh century there was a king who gave the gift of an organ to the then reigning pope and the instrument was introduced into the Roman church at that time, and spread from there. But as Christians, we don't do things because other people do things. We don't do things because it's fun or it's convenient. We do things because we want to follow the lead of Jesus Christ, and we do this in great matters as well as small.
Singing without instruments of music, to me, is not a heaven and hell issue. It is with some people. But my opinion, I'm giving you my opinion now, it's not a heaven and hell issue with me, but I'll tell you this, if we cannot be faithful in such a small matter as this, how can God trust us with the weightier matters, with the more important matters? It's an important issue to obey God even in little things because if we can't obey Him in small things, how can we be trusted to obey Him in the great things? If we can't get this right, how can we get the other things right as well? It's not enough just to understand how we should properly worship God, but we understand also why we should worship.
Why do we Sing?
I don't want to just set a negative tone. I don't want to just say, "We've got to just sing." We do have to just sing, why? Because the Bible teaches us when we gather together to praise God, our praise should take its form in the form of vocal singing. That's why we do it. And we can defend that biblically. But why do we do that? Why should we praise God? That's the motivation behind it?
Well, we should praise God first of all, to praise Him, to tell Him how wonderful He is. Have you ever been in love? When you are in love, what is it that you want to do to that partner of yours? You want to tell them, don't you? And you get all mushy and you say, "You're so sweet. I love you." And you make all these kinds of great promises. "I'm going to love you forever." And then she asks you to take out the garbage.
When you love somebody, you want to tell them, you want to show them. Well, when you've got a human physical person, it's almost natural, you want to touch them, hold them, speak to them and do things for them. But, when we gather together, we want to praise God. We want to show Him our love. He's a spirit, we can't touch Him. What can we give Him, money? Can we do Him a favor? Take Him out to a movie. We can't do anything. How do we show our love to a spirit that we really do love? How do we show it?
1. We Sing to Express our Feelings
Well, look at Psalms in the Old Testament, If you've got your Bible, open to Psalms chapter 47, and listen to what David says. David had a lot to love God about. He was king. He had been rescued time and time again from danger. God had forgiven him for his sin with Bathsheba, over and over again. How does David say it? He says,
O, clap your hands, all peoples;
Shout to God with the voice of joy.
2For the Lord Most High is to be feared.
A great King over all the earth.
3He subdues people under us
And nations under our feet.
4He chooses our inheritance for us,
The glory of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.
5God has ascended with a shout,
The Lord, with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises;
Sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with a skillful psalm.
8God reigns over the nation,
God sits on His holy throne.
9The princes of the peoples have assembled themselves as the people of the God of Abraham,
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is highly exalted.
- Psalms 47:1-9
David was impressed with God. He was impressed with Him and he expressed himself in song. He shouted out his song. David wrote all these psalms here because he was impressed with God. He wanted to show Him how much he loved Him. Well, in the New Testament, when we have that feeling, more importantly, when we're called together as a people of God and want to express our feelings, we do that with song. Singing is a way to express our reaction to the blessings and the power of God.
On a sunny day in August, if you were to look directly up into the sun. What would be your reaction? Your reaction would be to cover your eyes, right? Because the sunlight would blind you. A natural reaction is to cover your eyes. Well, in the same way, when you come before the Lord Jesus Christ, when you come into the presence of God, when you begin to recognize the things that He has done for you, the natural reaction is to break out in a song of praise, and the way that the New Testament tells us that is acceptable to praise God, is to do it with singing. Praise is a direct response to the knowledge of God and singing is the most natural and biblical and acceptable way to express this praise. And so we need to recognize that the reason we sing is to praise God.
The word worship in the Greek means to kiss forward. The idea of sending someone a kiss. That's the Greek idea of worship: to kiss forward. Well, we kiss forward, we kiss God with our praise, and the way we praise in an acceptable manner is by singing. So that's why we sing. It's an acceptable manner of praising God.
2. We sing to Give Thanks
Secondly, we sing in order to give thanks. In Ephesians 5:19-20 we see an example of the giving of thanks.
19speaking to one another in psalms and in hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;
- Ephesians 5:19-20
Notice he says, "always giving thanks for all things." He says, "sing, make melody, spiritual songs." That's the way to give thanks. You want to say thank you to God? Gather together and sing spiritual songs to His name. Singing hymns is a spiritual action that expresses thanksgiving for spiritual blessings we receive. It's a spiritual way to say thank you to a spiritual being. Remember, I said, you can't take God to the movies. You've got to find a spiritual way to say thank you to a spiritual being, and singing praises is that spiritual thing that says, "thank you," to a spiritual being.
Say thank you for what? Well, we mentioned it in our prayer. All of our physical blessings come from God, but we have spiritual blessings too. Who forgives our sins? God does. And who has promised us resurrection from the dead? God has. And who has given us eternal life by putting His spirit inside of us? God has. And who gives us strength to get through the rough moments? God does. These things are worthy to give thanks for. Spiritual gifts are given by a spiritual being. And there needs to be a spiritual way to say thank you. And singing praises is the spiritual way to say thank you to a spiritual being.
3. We Sing for Encouragement
And then thirdly and finally, why do we sing? We sing for encouragement. We sing in order to encourage each other. Let's look at Acts chapter 16. I need to give you the background here, because I don't have time to read the whole passage. Paul and Silas are in Philippi. They're preaching the Gospel and there's a young girl following them who's possessed by a kind of spirit, and she's causing trouble. And at one point Paul turns and he casts the spirit out of this young girl, and more or less heals her.
The people who were manipulating this girl- she was telling fortunes and prophesying and so on and so forth, reading palms and all that kind of stuff. The people who are making money with her were leaders in the city, and they were very angry with Paul. And so they created a riot, to throw Paul and Silas into prison. And so when we read in Acts 16:19-24 we pick up the story and the riot is starting, so it says,
19But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities, 20and when they had brought them to the chief magistrate, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21and are proclaiming customs which are not lawful for us to accept or observe, being Romans." 22The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off of them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24and He, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
- Acts 16:19-24
Now, do you think these guys are in trouble? I mean, this is not the era of civil rights. Paul can not say, "Hey, I have my rights." You know, forget your rights buddy. You are lucky we didn't kill you right there in the square. We're prolonging your life a little bit. I mean, they're in trouble. They've got no lawyer, no friends, no money, no defense, no nothing. They've been humiliated publicly. They were in big trouble.
Now let's read the next verse. It says,
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to praise to God.
- Acts 16:25a
Praise God. I'd be like, "Oh God, what did I do? Why did I get into this work in the first place? I should have become a dentist." That's what I'd be doing. I'd be praying to God all right. I'd be saying, "God, get me out of this place." What were they doing? They were singing and they were praising God, probably because they had the very great honor to suffer on account of the name of Jesus Christ.
And then in verse 26 it says,
and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were open and everyone's chains were unfastened.
- Acts 16:26
And the story goes on to say that the jailer who had put them in jail was so impressed that he himself was converted and became a Christian. And that very night he was baptized, but that's not the point. The point I'm trying to show you here is that we sing for encouragements' sake.
Is there nothing better to lift up a sad heart than to sing praises to the Lord? Is there anything better for your soul than to sing praises to God? Are we not all prisoners of this world? Are we not all prisoners of the frustrations of this world, the temptations of this world, the discouragements of this world? Are we not all prisoners of the darkness of ignorance of this world? Are we not all prisoners of the mean-spiritedness of this world? Are we not all the same kind of prisoners that Paul was in this prison, and when we sing together, like Paul and Silas, don't the walls of tension and fear, the walls of anger, come tumbling down around us?
I want to tell you something. It's hard to hate somebody that you're sitting next to, singing praises to God with. The only time there's no argument in the church is when everybody's singing. If we could just keep people singing 24-hours a day, seven days a week, there wouldn't be any arguing, fighting, jealousy. There wouldn't be any fear. When our hearts and our mouths are filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving, there is no room for argument. I cannot think a hateful thought while I'm singing, "Glory be to God," with all my heart and soul. And so, when I hear my voice and your voice mingling in song, I can actually feel our unity and our common purpose and I am encouraged. I'm encouraged to hear your voice next to mine singing the same thoughts and the same sounds as you.
This is why it's so important that families worship together, not just here but at home. I get a lot of calls about families that are in trouble. And I wonder, I've never asked this question, but maybe I should. I should ask them, "When was the last time you had a family devotional at your house? When was the last time mom and dad and the kids sat down, pulled out some songs and sang together and prayed together for each other?" Boy, that would break a lot of tension.
I know my wife and I have done that many times in the past. The kids have gone to bed. It's been a long week, we're shell-shocked from a week of nonstop whatever- the phone's ringing non-stop and there are problems, and we're just absolutely shell-shocked. It's 10 o'clock, finally the last one is asleep. We have four kids. The last one's asleep. We look around the house, and we look at each other and sometimes it's tempting to say, "We'll make ourselves feel better. We'll watch the news." But in those moments, when we're really inspired, we don't do that. We take out a song book and we spend a half hour and we sing. We sing five or six songs and we pray, and the strength comes. Somehow, God is able to fill our hearts with encouragement because we have raised our voices in confidence and in praise to Him, in song.
Okay, let's just summarize all this, the things that we've said. Why do we sing? Well, we sing because God has commanded us to use this form of expression in order to offer Him worship; and we sing in order to praise Him, to thank Him and to encourage one another. We know that when we gather here on Sunday mornings to praise God through song, we are doing it His way and we are absolutely sure that our worship is not in vain.
And so, this lesson will make a difference in your spiritual lives if you realize and accept that what we do here when we sing is something commanded by God. It's not a church doctrine. It's a Bible doctrine. It's a Godly doctrine. And so, when you do sing, you should do it with as much effort and care and expertise as you possibly can, and that means that when you gather here to sing Wednesday night, Sunday night, Sunday morning, devotionals at your house, then I want those who lead singing to choose their songs carefully and to lead respectfully, God's people in worship. And I want you to remember to pay attention physically how you're going to sing, and mentally look at the words. Pay attention to what you're doing. You're worshiping Almighty God. You're not just passing time. Please do your best on every selection.
If we do this, our worship will not be in vain and our prayers will be heard and we will come away from services spiritually satisfied and refreshed. Well, one way to get on the right track of all this singing business, and I come back to the beginning, is to participate next weekend. You want to learn how to sing better and why, and improve overall performance? Not to impress God, but rather to offer to God something which is better, than I encourage you to be here next weekend.
Now, I haven't preached the Gospel this morning. This isn't the Gospel folks. This is about singing. What does the Bible teach about worship? Worship should be done through singing from a sincere heart. I haven't preached the Gospel. I haven't told you that Jesus Christ died to take away the debt of sin. I haven't said that in order to be saved, that an individual needs to believe in Jesus Christ and turn away from sin and be buried in the waters of baptism, to wash away sin and to walk in a new life. I haven't given that message, but I've given it many times in the past.
Most of you here know the message. Most of you here have responded and are walking in the light, but there may be some who have not yet confessed openly their faith in Christ, who have not yet made the decision to be baptized, at which point the sins are washed away and the spirit is given. They have not made the decision to fully give themselves to Christ. And I think the latter is true. There may be some who are not yet Christians among us, but there may be others who have not- they've gone through all of this, but they have not yet given their entire heart to Jesus Christ. If you don't give your entire heart to Jesus Christ, you can't fully praise God. If you don't give your entire heart to Jesus Christ, you can't fully know God. And if you don't know God, you can't live eternally.
If you're among that number, if you need to confess Christ, if you need to be restored to a your first love, which is Jesus. If you need the prayers of the church for illness or spiritual weakness, whatever your need, we usually choose a song at the end of our service, and while we're singing this song, if anyone has a need to come forward, we encourage you to do so now as we sing.