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Jonathan Master (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of theology and dean of the School of Divinity at Cairn University. He is also director of Cairn’s Center for University Studies. Dr. Master serves as executive editor of Place for Truth and is co-chair of the Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology.

Article by Tim Bertolet

The Effect of Singing

March 18, 2015 •

There is an old joke for those who cannot sing that I may not be making a joyful noise but at least I’m joyful when I make it. For those reasons, some people can find congregational singing to be intimidating, yet, hopefully, we would all acknowledge the importance of congregational singing as a part of corporate worship.

Paul instructs us that worship is vital to encouraging one another and building each other up:

Eph. 5:18-20 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,  addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Col. 3:16 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. 

Worship is first and foremost addressing God and giving glory to God. Paul is clear in both of these passages that “singing and making melody” is “to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19) and “to God” (Col. 3:16). We are giving thanks to God who is the true and proper object of worship.

The proper attitude of singing and worship is with thankfulness. While worship is a duty, it is to be done with a proper spirit and attitude of the heart. We are to come singing not begrudging that we “have” to do it. Sometimes this is a challenge to those who are less musically inclined because singing is actually work. Nevertheless, singing to God raises up our hearts and emotions to God while we engage our minds with the words we are saying about him. It engages the whole person.

Worship is a means by which we let Christ’s Word dwell in us. The ‘you’ is plural which suggests that it is not just that the Word dwells in our hearts (although it is that) but that in singing the Word dwells in the midst of our congregation. In worship the Word is to dwell in our midst. We rehearse it together as we are reflecting on God, his nature and his work, and most especially his work for us in Christ.

Paul also here points to the secondary effects of singing in the life of the individual and the corporate body. When we sing in a corporate worship we are reminding others of great spiritual truths. We are addressing God but Paul also sees us in Ephesians as addressing one another. We are saying spiritual truths together and to each other. Our joining in singing is an act of mutual confession and affirmation—we believe these things together and we are praising God together.

This can be of particular encouragement when a Christian comes to church after a particularly hard or discouraging week. We might feel so low and downcast that we have nothing to lift up before God and no ability to turn our attention to God with thanksgiving. Yet the singing of others and our own singing with them may serve to remind us of the spiritual realities of what God has done. It reminds us “I really do believe these things” or “I really do confess them.” As the Spirit works, we may find ourselves feeling again that my hope is in the Lord and it will not be dismayed. Proper worship has the effect of reminding us that we really do not have anything to bring before Him of our own strength or merit. Singing to God in a way that Christ’s Word richly dwells in us is an expression of the grace of God upon which we are all thoroughly dependent.

Let us remember that while worship is about God and directed to God—it is also a means that God can use in our life to strengthen and encourage us.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as Interim Pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.

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