Teaching and Encouraging through Singing

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16)

(In yesterday’s post I shared stories of how the gathered church singing together encouraged me when I needed it most. Today’s part 2 provides more of the biblical basis for how important singing with and to one another is every week.)

In your mind, go back to a recent Sunday morning where you gathered with God’s people in your local church. One thing you did (I hope) was sing. When you sing, who do you sing to? In that scenario, do you sing to God, to other people, or to your own heart? How do you process congregational singing? You could ask, who do you sing for? Are you singing to glorify God, to rehearse truth to yourself or give voice to your beliefs, or do you sing to build up others?

Like many multiple-choice questions, the correct answer is “D: All of the Above.” We sing with all three audiences in mind. We might not always be conscious of it, but when we sing we are voicing and affirming our beliefs in song, we are worshipping God in song, and we are encouraging one another in song.

If we only think about ourselves, we’ll see congregational worship as karaoke time where we get to express ourselves and showcase our voices. If we ignore those around us and think about congregational worship only as God-and-I time, then we make worship a vertical experience that cuts us off from the people we worship with. A source of unity then becomes another opportunity for individuality. But, if we only think of worship in terms of those around us we’re singing to encourage, then we also miss out on the fact that we are simultaneously worshipping the living God. A divine moment turns into another shared human experience. All are important and each should be considered and included.

In Col. 3:16 (one of many Bible verses on singing), Paul highlight two of those three audience. Our singing is to “one another” as we teach and admonish each other through the Word, and our singing is done “in your hearts to God.” It’s upward (to God) and outward (to one another).

First, we should see in Scripture that singing allows us to glorify God in a unique way. Singing not only allows us to give voice to our faith, but it does so in an artistic, rhythmic, and poetic form that captures our hearts. Through the poetry in the music and the lyrics of what we sing our affections are powerfully engaged. It also offers us a memory-tool as we remember what we sing (which is why we have an Alphabet song). Throughout Scripture we see God’s people worship him through song—which often includes instruments but doesn’t require it.

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day.” (1 Chr. 16:23)

“Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!” (Ps. 9:11)

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (Is. 12:5-6)

 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25)

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Eph. 5:19)

Like prayer, singing takes place in every season and scenario. There are joyful songs of praise for deliverance as well as sorrowful songs of confession. The Psalms, the songbook of God’s people, connect song with the full range of human emotions. Singing involves our heart, mind, and body as we express faith in God, ascribe glory to his name, thank him for his deeds, and remember his words and works. The truths we’ve seen and the realities we’ve lived in all week can come out in unique ways through singing to God. It’s then both a place for our worship to go as we express our thoughts and emotions in song as well as an avenue stirring up worship as we are reminded of God, his works, and his ways. Thankfully, this isn’t restricted to Sundays. Throughout the week we can sing God’s praise. Grab a hymnal, play Christian music you can sing with, or use your church’s Spotify list. Find ways to exalt God in your heart by lifting your voice.

But, as our text reminds us, we don’t only sing alone or to God. A big part of why we sing together is that this is the means by which we “teach and admonish” one another. We instruct and warn. We encourage and exhort. In Colossians 3:16 Paul doesn’t say there’s teaching of the Word and there’s also (separately) singing. This text says that teaching and admonishing happens as we sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” “Music is a vehicle through which a message is delivered.”[1]

This is why it’s so important what we sing. It’s not enough that songs sound good, that it moves us emotionally, it’s catchy, or that the melody is pretty. We must also have lyrics that are doctrinally sound and God-centered. We must remind one another of God’s promises, provision, works, blessings, and words. It doesn’t matter how many hands are lifted or hearts are moved if it’s not according to truth. We encourage and build one another up through songs drenched in the Word (3:16). We cannot do this to one another if the Word is not dwelling in us and our songs are not saturated with the Bible.

Think about this the next time you gather to worship God with your church. If you don’t sing, you’re not only robbing God of worship but you’re failing to encourage those around you. As you sing, people are encouraged by how your voice—however pretty or terribly sounding—testifies that you believe these things and have experienced these things. Your song of worship isn’t simply a fun musical act, but it’s a testimony to the truth of God’s Word and the faithfulness of God’s ways. We sing because we are banking on these truths. How might that affect the way you sing as you gather for worship? How might that affect the way you listen to others while singing?

Often, on a Sunday morning as our church sings together, I’m strengthened by those around me. When I see a person praising God and I know they’ve been through the valley, it fortifies my faith. When a family in the midst of loss, confusion, pain, or doubts continues to trust God and worship God in our singing, my faith is fed through them. Or, as I’m singing and see those around me and I know the circumstances they’re in, I’m reminded to sing with even more passion, faith, and honesty. Singing isn’t going through the motions in that moment but it’s a tangible way to love on people around me. We sing for God’s glory but we also sing for our neighbor’s good.

[1]Richard Melick Jr., Colossians, 305.

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