Scriptures

Singing

Introduction

When it comes to worshipping our God, many people choose their worship based upon something that sounds or looks good, rather than something that teaches the truth. Now we must remember that worship isn’t about making us feel good or for our benefit but our worship is supposed to bring glory to God.

The first time the word worship is mentioned in the Old Testament is in Genesis 22:5 when Abraham was about to offer his son Isaac as sacrifice to God.

The first time the word worship is used in the New Testament is in Matthew 2:2 when the Magi came from the east to Jerusalem to worship the baby Jesus. And so the Old and the New Testament give us examples of worship as giving God the very best we have to offer.

Now did you know that singing is mentioned 9 times in the New Testament?

We have examples of singing individually

After Jesus, had instituted the Lord’s Supper, Matthew records us in Matthew 26:30 “Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives”.

And remember that the word hymn is actually the word hymning, which basically means they sang a lot of hymns from the Psalms. They sang what we call the Hallel Psalms which are Psalms 115-118.

We also have examples of singing as a congregation Romans 15:8-9. And there a few more examples which we’re going to look at those later.

But for now, let me say that the first mention of any musical instrument in the Bible is found in Genesis 4:21 “His brother was Jubal, the ancestor of all musicians who play the harp and the flute”.

And the first mention of singing with a musical instrumental is found in Genesis 31:26-27. Now some may say well, wasn’t Moses commanded to make musical instruments? After all Numbers 10:2 says that God told him to “Make two trumpets of hammered silver to use for calling the people together and for breaking camp”.

Well, yes Moses was commanded to make silver trumpets but not for the purpose of music or worship as the text tells us.

Well, what about David, didn’t he introduce musical instruments to Old Testament worship?

David says in 1 Chronicles 23:5 “Four thousand are to be gatekeepers and four thousand are to praise the LORD with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose.”

But didn’t God command the use of instrumental music in Old Testament worship?

2 Chronicles 29:25 “Hezekiah stationed the Levites in the LORD’s temple with cymbals, harps, and lyres according to the command of David, Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet. For the command was from the LORD through His prophets.”

Now before we jump in and say that the text clearly tells us that the Lord commanded these instruments to be used in worship, we need to understand what is being said. Now remember that Moses no-where appointed any musical instruments to be used in worship, there was nothing of the kind under the first tabernacle. And that’s because God didn’t ask for them.

But what is the text telling us?

It’s telling us that Hezekiah appointed the Levites in the house of the Lord, David commanded the use of the instruments mentioned.

So what did God command?

He commanded through His prophets that the Levites should praise the Lord. It doesn’t mean that the Lord commanded the use of the instruments. And so, it was by the order of David that so many instruments of music should be introduced into the divine service, 1 Chronicles 23:4-5.

Here’s what Adam Clarke, the most renowned scholar of the Methodist Church, wrote about this text. “I believe that David was not authorized by the Lord to introduce that multitude of musical instruments into the Divine worship of which we read; and I am satisfied that his conduct in this respect is most solemnly reprehended by this prophet; and I farther believe that the use of such instruments of music, in the Christian Church, is without the sanction and against the will of God; and that they are “sinful”.

Yes, David introduced musical instruments into temple worship but God didn’t ask for them.

David also introduced the idea of building a temple for God, but God didn’t ask for one to be built in the first place, 1 Chronicles 17:1-6. Musical instruments in worship was David’s idea, not God’s, building a temple for God to dwell in was David’s idea, not God’s. Now we know that musical instruments were used in Old Testament worship, but why did God allow instruments in worship?

Well one plausible answer to that question is that God permitted it, just like He permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, their spiritual immaturity.

My point is this, if we are going to use the Old Testament to justify the use of instrumental music, we also need to keep all the other duties which were done during Old Testament worship like animal sacrifices, etc.

But Paul reminds us in Galatians 3:23-25 “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So, the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian”.

We know that the Jews sacrificed animals in their worship and the early Christians knew that instruments were employed under the Mosaic system but my question is, why did they not embrace the use of musical instruments in New Testament worship?

Now we could go to Revelation 5:8 which reads, “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.”

But let me ask you, are there harps in heaven? Perhaps there are and apart from Revelation being a highly figurative book, we need to remember that were dealing with the here and now, not the future. There are no examples or commands to use instrumental music in the New Testament but the New Testament expressively commands us to sing.

Now we could say, the New Testament doesn’t explicitly condemn the use of musical instruments. But the New Testament doesn’t explicitly condemn praying to Mary, or baptizing infants, does it?

You see there is a prescribed manner in worship, and the moment we step outside of the prescription, and offer to God something He hasn’t asked for, then we’re in the world of disobedience.

But some people come along and say, ‘well there’s nothing in the Scriptures to say we shouldn’t use an instrument’, well, you don’t go by the things that are not there, you go by the things that are there. Let me give you a short illustration, my wife sometimes ask me to go to the supermarket and sometimes she gives me a list, but she doesn’t give me a second list. She doesn’t give me a list asking me to get milk, bread and eggs and another list that says, I don’t want you to get bacon, chicken or cheese.

We all know that a list is both inclusive and exclusive, it excludes everything that’s not included. And when God tells us what He wants, that automatically excludes all the other things. God doesn’t have to say, ‘I want you to sing and make music in your heart but I don’t want you to play the cymbal, harps or lyres’.

If people want to argue for the use of instruments today then everyone needs to be playing one, not just individuals or groups.

Singing was the practice of the early church and make no doubt about it, instrumental music in worship was unknown to the apostles. Now that’s not to say that there were no musical instruments available, of course there were but Christians were directed by the Holy Spirit to use only their voices. They were commanded to pluck their heartstrings rather than plucking the strings of a musical instrument.

Around 600 years after the apostles had gone, Pope Vitalian introduced an organ in the Latin Church around 670 A.D. But opposition was so great it was removed to preserve unity and it would be another 200 years before it would be adopted into the Latin Mass. In 1054 A.D. a great division took place between the eastern and the western churches of Europe.

While the western churches (Catholic) adopted the use of images, a universal head (Pope), instrumental music, and sprinkling for baptism, the eastern churches (Orthodox) rejected these things. To this very day Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian and Eastern) use only vocal music.

Secular history is very clear that the use of instrumental music in public worship did not take place until about the 10th century, which was one of the innovations of the Catholic Church. It was never a practice in the early centuries of the church, in fact, the renowned musicologist Curt Sachs of Columbia University said, “All ancient Christian music was vocal.”

When the Protestant Reformation began in the early 1500s many left the Catholic Church and established other churches. Almost without exception the leaders of these denominations were opposed to the use of instrumental music in worship.

During the Reformation period, only the Church of England and the Lutherans carried over the use of instrumental music from their Roman Catholic past. In modern day worship, not only is it common to hear organs and pianos but full orchestras. Professional musicians are even employed but again we need to remind ourselves that this may well be pleasing to the ears of men but Paul said to “make melody in your heart to the Lord” Colossians 3:16 / Ephesians 5:19.

In both Ephesians and Colossians notice the phrase ‘one another’ is used, Paul is reminding us what the type of music is to be used, and that type of music is congregational singing.

Paul mentions three categories of singing

‘Psalms’ which are songs from the Old Testament book of Psalms.

‘Hymns’ are song of praise and

‘Spiritual songs’ are basically poetry songs.

All of which are to sung with the purpose of “teaching” and “admonishing” one another with spiritual truths.

The Ephesian passage also tells us that we are to ‘make music in our hearts’.

You see, when we sing, we are teaching and admonishing each other and so filling each other with the words of Christ. This is not an outward attitude, expressed with instruments, or by clapping our hands in time with the song, but like we said the last time, it is very much an inner attitude.

God says listen, “apart from glorifying Him, singing is also a way of getting fed spiritually”.

You see, when we are singing the words to a song, we are feeding each other on the word of God at the same time. And because we are feeding on those words, we are also promoting purity of the heart within ourselves.

God tells us that we’ve got 4 things to think about when we are praising Him in song

1. We can sing Psalms, spiritual songs and hymns.

2. Our singing needs to be aimed at Him.

3. We need to sing with gratitude.

4. We need to sing from the heart.

You see, it’s not a matter of feelings, loved ones, it’s a matter of gratitude. That’s why we sing together as a body of believers and that’s why we have to sing together at the same time. Because when we sing together, we are praising God together, and that’s part of our worship to Him.

Now have you ever noticed what comes before Ephesians 5:19? Yes it’s Ephesians 5:18, but what does Ephesians 5:17-18 say?

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Now is Paul jumping on to a different subject in verse 19? Of course not, he’s still speaking about our attitude towards other people and the will of God. You see, being filled with the Spirit means filling our minds with the word of God and what that does, is creates gratitude in our hearts, which is expressed in our singing to God. That’s why Paul says, “Don’t get drunk on wine”, he is saying the Lord’s will for us is joy, not alcohol.

He goes on to say in Ephesians 5:20-21 “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

In other words, everything we do in our worship assemblies is done out of gratitude. Paul says it should always be like this, he says we should be thankful for all things, we should be thankful for everything in Jesus name, and our thankfulness should be aimed at God, 1 Corinthians 14:15.

Paul doesn’t say that he ‘will sing with my instrument’, he says ‘I will sing with my spirit and my mind’.

Singing praises to God is a privilege, it’s a joy and God has given each of us a voice with which to praise Him. Think about it, if our singing comes from our hearts, it goes straight to the heart of God, and that’s a wonderful experience.

The word “singing” in our English translations is from the Greek word ‘psallo’, which literally means, “Plucking the heart strings”

When we use our voices to praise God, we are plucking our heart strings and so not only is God pleased but it also brings us great joy.

That’s why James says in James 5:13 says, “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.”

Do you see how when we sing it has nothing to do with the external things we do with our bodies? It all has to do with our hearts, it’s not a matter of opinion loved ones, it’s a matter of submission. And that’s where it always comes back to, God’s will or our own. The main character of music in the worship of God should be vocal.

John Wesley the founder of the Methodist church, said one time, “I have no objection to instruments in our chapels provided they are neither heard or seen.”

John Calvin the forerunner of the Presbyterian Church wrote, “Musical instruments in celebrating the praise of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papist, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews.”

Charles Spurgeon the famous preacher of the Baptist church in London said, “Musical instruments would hinder rather than help our praise. Sing unto Him. This is the sweetest and best music. We might as well pray by machinery as praise by it.”

They all understood that the whole object of Christian worship is to bring glory to God and worship is not intended to please men, but to please God. Outside of a worship setting Christians often gather to sing hymns for the pure joy and pleasure they get out of singing, others may listen and enjoy it, even be edified by it. After all the Hebrew writer said in Hebrews 13:15 that our singing in worship is to bring “praise to God continually.”

Singing in worship is for the purpose of glorifying God not for the purpose of entertaining those in the pews. And like we looked at a moment ago, our singing has to serve the purpose of “teaching and admonishing one another”.

Now isn’t it interesting that there is nothing in the New Testament which indicates that God is impressed with the beauty or quality of our voices. The average voice does not have to be professional in quality to please God. And let me just say this, for those of us who aren’t blessed with good singing voices, God hears the crows singing as well as the nightingales.

It is our hearts that God listens to, even though our voices may not produce the most beautiful sound. The quality of our voices may be good for entertaining but not essential to praising God.

Richard Wagner, one of the great musicians and composers in America once expressed his opinion about vocal music in these words.

“There is no doubt but that those qualities absolutely necessary to church music, namely, modesty, dignity and soulfulness are more inherent in the vocal style than in any other. Vocal music is in general more expressive than the mechanically produced tones of instruments is undeniable. Religious feeling finds its most natural expression in vocal utterance, for the human heart is the source of both devotion and song.”

Do you know what Wagner is saying?

He is saying what God has commanded the Christian to do in Ephesians 5:19, “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”.

Now just before we finish I believe there is an important question we need to ask ourselves. In Matthew 15:8 Jesus says to the religious leaders of His day in “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

You see we can debate until we’re blue in the face about instrumental music but Jesus warns us that it is possible for people just to pay lip service to God, and that includes in our singing.

Are we singing and making melody in our hearts or just miming the words?

Do the words of the songs, move us and put our minds on heavenly things?

Because sometimes I’ve heard some songs sung as if we were at a funeral service. We sometimes sing slow songs fast and fast songs slow. Songs like ‘Oh happy day’ and one line from that song says, ‘Oh Happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!”

If I were a visitor coming into our assemblies by the time we’ve finished singing that song, I would be questioning just how happy we were, when we had our sins forgiven!

Another song is ‘Marching to Zion’, it’s supposed to be a marching song, and sometimes we sing this song as if we we’re on a beautiful stroll along the beach. What about the song, ‘I surrender all’? Do we really mean it when we sing, ‘All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give’? What about the song, ‘Count your blessings’, one line from the last stanza says, ‘Count your many blessings, angels will attend.’

Do we really believe that angels will help us in our time of need? Do we even believe angels exist these days?

The list could go on but the point is, if we really believed what we we’re singing, we would be more convicted about what we believe. And unless we truly put our hearts into the song and really mean what we’re singing, then we’re just paying lip service to the Lord.

Music is instrumental in our worship, not with mechanical instruments but with the use of our hearts and minds.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Hebrews 13:15 

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

John 10:10

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