Below is the third and final part of our blog series on the importance and function of music in corporate worship. In part one, we discussed what a gracious gift music itself is and how the Bible reveres music as an essential part of the human experience. Specifically, we looked at how music allows us to respond to God, namely his revelation and his redemptive work. In part two, we talked about how music can be used to teach us rich theology that shapes our knowledge of and love for God, as well as how music provides a meaningful avenue for us to come before God and confess our sin, acknowledging our need for his saving grace. Here in part three, we'll explore how singing in corporate worship edifies the body of Christ and how music glorifies God.
Singing Edifies the Body
Hebrews 10:24-25 says:
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
The author of Hebrews instructs his readers to regularly gather together so that the members of the body of Christ might "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." One of the most notable benefits of Sunday morning gatherings is the impact that it leaves for the other six days of the week. By regularly meeting together in corporate worship, we have accountability and encouragement; after all, there is a reason we say there's "strength in numbers." Coming together as a family to remember the good news of Jesus gives us the fuel to live out the mission of the Gospel and display Christ's love as we have to head our separate ways—into our work environments, our homes, and other spheres of influence that we have.
This is why Paul encourages the church at Colossae with this:
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." (Colossians 3:16, cf. Ephesians 5:18-20)
Paul is saying that the "psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit" that we sing as a corporate body serve to "teach and admonish one another" and allow for "the message of Christ" to "dwell among us richly." So, while the object and primary audience of our music is God himself, our songs are meant for the edification and encouragement of the other members of the body gathered with us. When we engage with God in worship through song, it could be the very thing our neighbor needs to receive the confidence necessary for a difficult situation later. When we lift our voices loudly and boldly in praise, it could offer warm encouragement to our brother that came that morning with a great burden on his heart.
With our songs, we uplift one another and "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." This is why there is no substitute for the corporate worship of the church body. Of course, we ought to sing to our God in private. But, when we come together as a family, the songs we sing and the joy with which we sing them can accomplish something beautiful and unique as the whole church is edified and strengthened.
Singing Glorifies God
Lastly, when we sing, we glorify God. This is not to say that we somehow add or give glory to God that he did not already have in himself. God has been, is, and forever will be infinitely glorious. Rather, as his creation and children, we are offering him—ascribing to him—the glory and praise that he is already worthy of. The word "worship" derives from the Old English word woerthship, meaning "to give worth to something." While we are not giving worth to God in the sense that we are making him more worthy, we are "giving worth" in the sense that we are acknowledging and declaring how precious and worthy he truly is!
The Westminster Confession defines the chief end of man as: "to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Many have heard John Piper's spin on this: "to glorify God by enjoying him forever." It is clear, whichever phrasing is used, that our humanity—our very nature as humans—is inextricably linked with "glorifying God." As created beings, it is in the very fabric of our souls to respond to him as our Creator by offering him worship and praise in every aspect of our lives. While worship and singing are not synonyms, as they are often (wrongfully) treated, singing, as we have seen from Scripture itself, is one of the most natural ways we can respond to God and his work in our lives.
Psalm 145, a psalm of praise, repeatedly proclaims that God is good and worthy of exaltation:
I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise,
his greatness no one can fathom. (vv 1-3)
Does David cause God to be "great...and most worthy of praise"? No, but he exclaims it! And he praises God in response to his greatness and worthiness. When we sing truths about God—the truth that he has revealed to us in his Word and in his Son, Jesus—his heart is gladdened and we offer him the glory and majesty that he alone is due.
It is no wonder, then, that the book of Revelation depicts our eternal communion with God by using song as an expression of praise and honor. The characters surrounding the throne of heaven are continually singing out to glorify and proclaim the worthiness of the Son. For example, in Revelation 5:12, we see the angels in a loud voice singing out:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"
When we gather corporately, we have the opportunity to do the same: to sing of the worthiness and honor of Jesus! In a very real, very amazing way, this means that every time the corporate body gathers together and sings aloud, they serve as a picture of what is happening around the throne of grace. What a privilege! What a joy!
Music is a gift. It is a gift given by God to allow us to experience and respond to his truth and work. When we sing to our God—when we sing of who he is, of our need for him, of our gratitude for what he has done for us—we do so for a number of reasons. We sing to respond to God's truth and his work of salvation in our lives, we sing to teach ourselves and others the truths of God revealed in his Word, we sing to confess our need for a savior and express gratitude that one has been provided for us, we sing to lift one another up and edify the family of God as we carry out his mission together, and, most importantly, when we sing, we join in not only with God's people throughout history but also with heavenly voices that have been and will continue singing of God's glory for ever and always.