Anecdotally, Christianity is the “singingest” religion. It probably wouldn’t take too much work to verify this peculiarity. But why is that? Historically, why has Christianity always involved so much singing and music? Depending on your church background, this may seem strange to you, so let me offer a few reflections on this. As always, we’ll let the text of Scripture direct our thinking.
1. Because the Bible makes a big deal about it
The word ‘sing’ or some version of it occurs more than two hundred times in the Bible. That’s more than the word ‘grace’ which is used about 130 times in the Bible. The number of occurrences of a word in the Bible never tells the whole story, but it does tell some of the story. In the OT alone, fifteen times the word ’sing’ is in the imperatival form. Which means, the way in which the word is used is a command. God doesn’t make singing an optional activity for his people. He makes it mandatory. Not to sing is disobedience.
2. Because Christians need what singing can do
Colossians 3:16 says this, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Read that verse again slowly.
The apostle Paul is writing to the church in Colossae. It’s a gathering of Christians. The word for ‘dwell’ in the original language is also an imperative, a command. Paul isn’t describing a personal preference. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Paul is levying out an action that must be obeyed: the word of Christ must dwell richly within you. But Paul gives details about how the dwelling of Christ’s word should happen: teaching one another with or through the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. When Christians gather together they are exhorted to teach and admonish one another through the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. By doing this, they let the word of Christ dwell richly in them. The time of singing during a church service isn’t the prelude to the teaching time; it’s part of the teaching time.
3. Because singing and music are a God-created capacity
“Once there was only God.”
Think deeply about it.
“Once there was only God.”
Music and singing are everywhere. Where did they come from? If you believe the above statement, then you also believe God is the Creator of all that is: including music, singing, and the capacity for such innovations. If everything that is can be traced back to God, then the best use of everything that is must be to attend to the greatest two God-given commands: to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as yourself.
There’s something profoundly perverted about Christians who abdicate use of music and singing and who allow them to be hijacked by those who would use those forms in service of something other than love of God and neighbor. This must not be! Music and singing belong to the church!
4. Because God didn’t make everything to be solely functional
Genesis 2:8-9 is striking: “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.”
Keep in mind this is pre-fall, so everything is still perfect. In the perfection of creation, God made some things to serve a functional purpose (i.e. food to nourish) and some things to serve an aesthetic purpose (i.e. to be pleasing to the eye; beautiful). God deems both to be good. Music and singing serve both purposes. On the one hand, they are functional. As in Colossians 3:16, our music and singing should serve the purpose of fostering the indwelling of Christ’s word. But music and singing also serve God’s other intended purpose in creation: to be enjoyed for its beauty. Not to look for, find, and enjoy beauty all over God’s resplendent creation is to miss out on a significant source of joy God intends us to have and is, in effect, a rejection of His work.
5. Because heaven is filled with music and singing
“Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song with these words:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
And you have caused them to become
a Kingdom of priests for our God.
And they will reign on the earth’” (Revelation 5:6-10).
There’s too much talk of music and singing in the book of Revelation to ignore this stark reality: heaven will be filled with it! I desperately plead with God for my brothers and sisters in Christ who find music and singing in the church to be boring, unnecessary, or a nuisance. I’m afraid for such people, heaven will not be very enjoyable…
So much more could be said, but all this talk on this subject makes me want to pick up my guitar and sing a few!
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy (Psalm 33:1-3).