The Songs We Sing

Charles J. Aebi

Dear Aebi: "What does the New Testament say about which songs are best for us to sing?"

That is a good question, because we need to think more about what and how we sing. The New Testament is not a song book, but it does give us some principles to guide us in what to sing. Perhaps the two passages that reveal the most about what should be in our songs of worship are Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16-17, so we look at them first.

Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16-17 say that our songs are to teach Biblical truth. They specify "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," terms that at times may be used interchangeably, but which here must have different shades of meaning. Psalms are inspired songs, including some Old Testament Psalms. There were also inspired songs in New Testament times, and they are also called "psalms" in 1 Corinthians 14:15-26, a passage dealing with Spirit-inspired utterances in teaching, singing, and praying. Inspiration or its result (filled with the Spirit, the word of Christ in you) is implied in both Eph. 5:18-19 and Col. 3:16-17. These songs contained Biblical truth that Christians taught one another by singing.

Our songs are to include praise, as well as instruction and exhortation, just as we do in other teaching and preaching. Praise is not just addressing God and Christ to say we love and adore Them, but also results when we teach each other about the nature of God and about His will for our lives. Some folk get the idea that the only songs that praise God are those in which "hallelujah" is repeated or some statement of praise is made directly to God; others insist that one's whole life is worship. We do not need to go to either extreme; we simply say that teaching about God and His will is a form of praise. That is very different from saying, for example, that changing a tire or eating a carrot is praising or worshiping God.

Some of our songs need to be addressed to God in prayer. Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19 both say that we are singing to God or to the Lord. "The Lord" in the New Testament usually means Jesus, though not always. Occasionally, I hear someone say that we may not address Jesus in prayer, but Stephen did in Acts 7:59-60. A careful study of the Godhead will show that the Father and the Son are so united in purpose and action that much of what is said of one is also true of the other. Both are said to judge us. Both are said to save us. Both are said to rule us. The word of Christ is said to be the word of God. So it is appropriate to address songs of prayer as well as of praise to both God and Christ. If we understand that Christ is our Mediator with God, why would we not at times want to address a request or an expression of praise to our Mediator to give to God?

Our songs should express reverence. Hymns are usually thought to be songs that express reverence, but so are songs of praise. Our songs should not be flippant, because they are either addressed to or are expressed in the presence of the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Almighty Jehovah God. It can be argued justifiably that reverence is not only a matter of the words of a song, but also of the music of its style, its beat or tempo, and sometimes even of its loudness. Of course, a song's class of music, loudness, and rate of rhythm are matters of judgment. To some people, country and western music may be as reverent as Bach, but most thinking people would draw the line on hard rock.

Our songs should be understandable, heart-felt, and true. We have already noted the true aspect of it. We must sing in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and with the Spirit and with the understanding also (1 Cor. 14:15). This means that we should learn the songs, and it means we need to understand the words. Not only the words but also the tempo of a song must be slow enough to let it be understood by the hearers, since we are to speak to one another as well as to God in our singing, yet not so slow as to give it a mournful note. Singing is usually associated with happiness (James 5:13). 2260 Layman Rd., Vincent, OH 45784-9730.


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