In part one, we discussed how Scripture encourages, even commands us to sing, particularly when we gather together as the people of God. The use of music is esteemed by many biblical authors and characters, and it is natural to respond to the work of God by lifting our voices in song. Here we continue to explore the value of singing together and ways that it serves us when we gather together as a family of God.
Singing Teaches Us Truth
The lyrics of a song are its lifeblood. A beautiful melody, if set to empty or untrue lyrics, can quickly lose its luster. Songs are tools for teaching, so their content must be worth communicating and declaring. To sing a song while disconnected from the words one is singing is hardly to sing a song at all.
Scripture affirms the use of song to impart truth. For instance, in Deuteronomy 32, Moses sings a song over the people of Israel to teach them everything he wishes to leave with them before he dies. The author recounts Moses' words after he finishes the song in verses 45-47:
When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”
"So that you may command your children to obey...They are not just idle words." Moses uses song to teach the people what they ought to believe about God and how to faithfully live in obedience to him. Of course, he could have merely spoken these words, but he chooses to compose them into a song. Why? Because music can connect with the listener in a unique and powerful way, making it a very effective teaching tool. For this reason, it is crucial that we are mindful of the music we sing and the truth—or, the error—that it communicates.
In a corporate worship gathering, it is not only the sermon that proclaims truth. It would be an error to suggest that the sermon content is a theological matter while the music is merely an artistic one. The choosing, arranging, and singing of songs, while artistic, indeed, is a profoundly theological endeavor—one that we should take seriously. Just as the sermon should find its foundation in the Word of God, our songs ought to, as well. And just as the sermon points us to the Gospel, so should our songs.
When we corporately sing together as a church, we are declaring words of praise to God, but we are also declaring truth so that it may resonate with us and dwell richly in our hearts and minds. Speaking practically, a certain line or lyric of a song may very well teach the one piece of truth that sticks with us throughout the week and keeps us focused on the Gospel.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood!
Many times, I've repeated that verse to myself over and over throughout the week. When we sing such truths on Sunday and, thus, sing them to ourselves throughout the week, we literally teach and re-teach ourselves the very truths that serve as our fuel to follow Jesus with our whole selves.
Singing Allows Us to Confess
Perhaps the most recognizable songs in all of Scripture are found in the book of Psalms—"psalm" coming from the Greek psalmoi, meaning "instrumental music." The book is, quite literally, a collection of lyrics meant to accompany music. Naturally, they offer a helpful picture of the different uses for and the value of music.
One of the more well-known Psalms, Psalm 51, was written by David and is referred to as a "psalm of contrition" or "psalm of confession." It presents both a humble (i.e., "contrite") declaration of his own sin and of God's holiness and righteousness:
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge. (vv 3-4)
By simultaneously acknowledging his own imperfection and God's perfection, David recognizes his need for God's mercy and grace. He pleas with God for restoration and for God to rekindle his affections for God and his grace:
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (vv 10-12)
Unless we confess our need for God to restore us and sustain us, we cannot fully appreciate the work he has done on our behalf in Jesus. The first of Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses said, "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance." He doesn't say, "the life of believers has repentance in it," but rather, it is repentance. Walking with Jesus is synonymous with recognizing the need to turn from our sin, die to self, and follow our new Master. The first step in repentance is acknowledging and confessing that which we need to turn from so that we may turn to God instead.
Singing, especially singing corporately, affords us a unique opportunity to express our contrition and need for a savior so that we may genuinely and joyfully express our gratitude—our gratitude that God has provided a way for that very sin to be cleansed and cast from his sight.