The apostle Paul urged the New Testament church to “make melody in our hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). So far in our visits together we have centered our attention upon the structure and appropriateness of the texts and tunes of our praise. But we must probe beyond the printed page and ask a more basic question: Why sing at all? The answers can be found in 1) God’s will and activity and 2) man’s response.
There is no area of human existence, experience or endeavor which can thrive apart from the control of our sovereign God. Our song is no exception. The Bible makes it very clear that our song is rooted in the will and activity of God Himself.
GOD’S WILL AND ACTS
First, we sing because God commands it. In Psalms 148, 149 and 150 we find a trio of exhortations to song. In Psalm 148 all creation is called to praise: angels, sun, moon, stars, heavens, waters, dragons, deeps, fire and hail, snow and vapors, stormy wind, mountains, hills, fruitful trees, cedars, beasts, cattle, creeping things, flying fowl; kings, princes, judges, young men and women, old men and children.
In Psalm 149 the church is commanded to sing: Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song and His praise in the congregation of saints (Psalm 149:1).
In Psalm 150, everything that “has breath” must sing, using every instrument at his disposal to the glory of God.
Second, we sing because God deserves it. Had God created man and left him alone, man would still owe God a debt of praise. But in the trio of Psalms 145, 146 and 147 we have a record of all the gracious acts of God, beyond creation, for which God deserves to be praised out of the creature’s profound gratitude for all God has done. Psalms 145, 146 and 147 describe God as “gracious, good to all…slow to anger… of great mercy… great…upholding those that fall …raising up those that are bowed down…giving meat in due season…righteous…near to those who call on Him…preserver…destroyer of the wicked…keeper of the truth…relieving the fatherless and the widow…gathering the outcasts …healing the broken in spirit…binding their wounds…giving food to the beasts and the young ravens…blessing your children within you…making peace in your borders…filling with wheat.” Does anyone dare to withhold the praise He asks? “Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving, sing praise upon the harp to our God!”
Third, we sing because God gives this gift of song. We know of this gift through various references in Scripture. We read in Psalm 40:3: “And He has put a new song in my mouth.” We know of this gift best through the psalms divinely inspired for the use of God’s people in worship, not just a small, despised, persecuted people of the Old Testament, but also by every section of Christendom down to the present day. No songs of human origin can parallel, far less exceed, the psalms in their portrait of God—a God with “a Creator’s mastery over the universe, with a Father’s tender pity toward His children, with a judge’s interest in righteousness, with a Shepherd’s care for the erring, a God whose glory is above the heavens, who counts the stars and names them, whose kingdom rules over all, yet whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. To learn of such a God is to have awakened within the heart a response of penitence, of gratitude, (J.A. of reverence and of adoring love” Lamb in The Psalms in Christian Worship). How regrettable that the Psalms have found so little entrance into the English-speaking congregations of today, even in many of Reformed and Presbyterian heritage who are direct descendants of reformers renowned for their reintroduction of the psalms into the lives of the laity at the time of the Reformation. Such neglect is a sad commentary on the past; a serious challenge for the future.
GOD’S CHILDREN’S RESPONSE
But we sing not only because of God’s will and activity, but also as a Spirit-guided expression of our response to that activity.
First, we sing because we are redeemed. Proverbs 29:6 says, “The righteous do sing and rejoice.” Perhaps the reason some people do not enjoy singing the “songs of Zion” is because they have no real assurance of sin forgiven and no determination to live a life totally under the kingship of Jesus Christ. God has stern words for those singers whose hearts have grown cold: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; for I will not hear the melody of your viols. But let judgment run down as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:23 and 24).
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul describes God-glorifying singing as that which comes from those who are “filled with the Spirit.”
Second, we sing because we are thankful for salvation and joyful because of it. It would be impossible to include even a list of Scripture verses which reiterate this theme as ground for our praise. “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will take the cup of salvation…I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12, 13a and 17).
Third, we sing because by God’s grace we are victorious over the trials and temptations of life. There are many passages in Scripture which refer to “songs in the night” given by God to the troubled soul as comfort and assurance of victory. One such setting is Psalm 42:7b and 8: “…all your waves and billows are gone over me. Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer to the God of my life.”
Fourth, we sing because we are a part of the body of Christ and thus are summoned to corporate worship. We are members of a family; the more we praise God together, the more we realize that unity among brothers for which Christ prayed.
Fifth, we sing because we want to testify to the rest of the church and to the world concerning the truth of God in Jesus Christ. Song is an effective teacher of doctrine while being at the same time a vehicle of praise. “My mouth shall sing of thy righteousness” (Psalm 51:14b); “Sing forth the honor of his name” (Psalm 66:2); “I will sing of mercy and judgment” (Psalm 101:1); “He has put a new song in my mouth even praise unto our God: many shall see it and fear and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).
Are we really singing Christians? The question concerns not the quality of our voice. Even “joyful noise” pleases the Lord if the heart is right. But is our praise really rooted in the gracious activity of God and expressed thankfully and joyfully in song?
A perpetually sad Christian is a contradiction in terms.
Let’s follow Paul’s urging and “make melody in our hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Let us ““..sing with the spirit…sing with understanding…” (I Corinthians 14:15). How long will we sing? “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being” (Psalm 104:33). And what of heaven? “And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him the hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder; and I heard the voice of harper sharping with their harps: And they sang as it were, a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand which were redeemed from the earth” (Rev. 14:1–3).
Are you redeemed? Then “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so”!