Why Do We Sing?2
Perhaps one of the oddest things about Christians in modern America is that we sing. I mean, almost everyone likes music and most people enjoy crooning along in privacy of the shower or a long-commute, but for most, singing loudly in public is a rare occurrence. It’s a thing best reserved for concerts or peer-pressured karaoke nights (where you hope no one is recording). But Christians all around the globe gather together every week, and one of the things we do is to sing. But have you ever wondered why do we do it? What is the purpose of our singing?
Let me give you the two main purposes for our singing:
1. We Sing for God
The first and primary purpose is to sing for God. The God of the Bible, the God of all creation, the God who rescues and restores His people, He is worth singing about, both for who He is and for what He has done.
WE SING FOR WHO HE IS
God is all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, loving, merciful, forgiving, just, holy, creator, king, awe-inspiring, wonderful, glorious, a refuge, a fortress, a savior and always faithful. There is no one like God and therefore His very character, His very being, His role as our ruler inspires our songs (Psalm 47:5-7).
A great example of this is in the hymn Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
God deserves to be sung for, simply because of who He is.
WE SING FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE.
In Exodus 14, God saves Israel from the oncoming Egyptian army. In Exodus 15, the people sing. God saved them, so they sang to Him. We carry on this same idea with the chief action we have to sing about being the work of Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection. God saves us, so we sing about His saving.
Here’s a great example from the song In Christ Alone:
'Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied
For ev'ry sin on Him was laid; here in the death of Christ I live.
The primary purpose is to sing for God: for His glory, for His honor, because we revere Him and love Him. We sing because He has saved us and works good toward us, and we must absolutely declare it so. We sing to praise Him for who He is and for what He has done in our lives and in the world.
But that’s not all.
2. We Sing for Ourselves
Our secondary purpose is to sing for ourselves. Now, I know that sounds odd and possibly a bit scandalous, but it is true. God is not the only person we sing for – we also sing for the singer and those who listen. More specifically, we sing for our growth, our unity and our witness.
WE SING FOR OUR GROWTH
Listen to what Paul writes:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” - Colossians 3:16
The songs we sing have incredible power to inform us about who God is and what He has done. They are able to instruct us about our sin, the power of the gospel, and the new community of the church. At some point the words in them are new and foreign to us, but they challenge us to take Biblical truths deep into our hearts; to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. But they not only teach us new truths, but also remind us of the old ones to which we still need to cling.
Take the song How Deep the Father’s Love For Us for example, it’s lyrics help to instruct or to remind the Christian as to where is their boasting; where does their salvation come from:
I will not boast in anything, No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart – His wounds have paid my ransom.
Singing this song (and others like it) is not only important for us to learn and remember, but with our singing we also have the opportunity to teach each other. When we stand next to each other and sing biblical truth, we encourage the fainthearted and strengthen the weak, by expressing the very truths they find difficult to believe. Not only do we need to sing, but we need to sing to each other. As Paul writes:
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.“ - Ephesians 5:19
We sing for our growth, not yours only, but for those you sing with and around.
WE SING FOR OUR UNITY
In its simplest sense, the church is a gathering. God gathered Israel together to come before Him and they sang. Jesus, by His blood has gathered the church together before God and we sing. It is something special and unique: the blending of voices lifted up and raised to our God in heaven. It is something that can only happen at these times when we gather together. It is in this physical gathering of Christians singing that we get a picture of the eternal gathering of believers in heaven. Singing together helps to bring us together. We sing for our unity. And finally,
WE SING FOR OUR WITNESS
Singing is a witness to the spiritual forces of this world when we praise God in spite of our circumstances.
It is a witness to our social world that people still gather to sing songs to the God who became man and who died and rose again 2000 years ago.
It is a witness to our children who often wonder if we really believe what we say.
It is a witness to those who do not believe, but who come and see what church is about.
Take for instance the song, This I Believe, which is a song version of the Apostles Creed stating:
I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus
In our songs we confess what we believe in the most poetic and beautiful way, with sweeter words and greater meaning than most of us could ever write. We sing for God first, yes, but we also sing for ourselves: our growth, our unity, and our witness.
Songs are powerful, and they should be purposeful. Whether they be hymns, contemporary songs, songs we write, or scripture put to music. We want to continue to sing songs for God that praise Him for who He is, and what He’s done, that also help us grow, be united, and act as a witness to the world.
So let us sing, even if it is a little odd.
Derick Zeulner is an associate pastor at South Shores Church. He has a M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, CA and he loves the wacky adventures of doing life with his wife, Rebecca, and 4 kids.